newborn fever

Should I be worried about a fever?

I always thought that as soon as my baby has a fever I need to bring it down right away. I found some interesting information that helped open my mind. Back in 1980, a prominent pediatrician named Barton Schmitt coined the term “fever phobia” to describe this desire of many parents to bring down fevers in their children as quickly as possible. So much time has passed since Schmitt’s phrase caught on but fever phobia is still alive and well.

A recent study in the journal Pediatrics showed that:

  • 91 percent of parents surveyed thought that a fever can cause harmful effects
  • 56 percent of caregivers very worried about the potential harm of fevers.
  • 89 percent of parents gave their children fever reducers before temperatures reached 102 degrees.

It is often not needed and may not even be the best choice to be too quick to rush for the medicine cabinet when your child has a fever.
“Nothing bad is going to happen if you don’t treat the fever,” says Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). She’s also author of Baby 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Baby’s First Year (Windsor Peak).

A fever simply indicates that your child is fighting off some kind of infection, such as a simple cold, the flu, or an ear infection. It is not an illness in itself. A fever may even do some good in fact. A study published in the February 2004 Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that children who ran a fever during their first year were less likely to develop allergies later in childhood than children who did not have fever.

Interestingly enough, a fever can help your child’s body fight off infection according to the AAP. A lot of illness-causing microbes thrive at the body’s normal temperature. A fever raises the temperature beyond which certain microbes need to reproduce. Also fevers throw your child’s immune system into high gear, causing the rapid production of bug-clobbering white blood cells. A small but growing body of research shows that letting a fever run its course may reduce the length and severity of such illnesses as colds and flu.

As for the concern among parents that fevers can have harmful effects…these instances are caused only by exceptional circumstances, like central nervous system disorders or heat stroke. The brain has an internal regulatory mechanism that prevents fevers caused by infections from getting higher than 105 or 106 degrees. Body temperature must get above 108 degrees to cause damage.