OWith seemingly endless options of over-the-counter medications readily available, it’s easy to reach for something to try and manage just about any symptom the body can create. The seasonal colds and flus that are so common this time of year always come with discomfort, and it’s tempting to take a painkiller or anti-inflammatory medication to ease the pain.
One of the most common experiences with seasonal viral infections, especially in children, is that the body develops a fever. Body and muscle aches, headaches, chills, and general discomfort almost always accompany this rise in body temperature. So we naturally want to do whatever we can to alleviate that suffering, especially when we see our children struggling.
Why does the body create a fever? Our intricate and incredibly complex immune systems work like an orchestra, with many different players working together to fight off viruses and bacteria in the body. The body’s creation of fever is a very clever and wise adaptive response that sets in motion a cascade of immune cells and biochemistry designed to fight an infection and return the body to health.
A temperature between about 100 and 103 degrees is a very effective temperature range for the body to fight infections. White blood cells, your frontline immune defenders, are much more effective at killing germs at higher temperatures. The heart beats faster with fever, which also moves immune cells around the body faster. Also, bacteria and viruses would much prefer the 98.6 degree incubator (normal body temperature) and do not do as well at higher fever temperatures.
It’s ironic that even though research has supported this biological reality in numerous studies over the years, providers continue to recommend anti-fever medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) to bring down a fever as soon as it develops. . Like worried parents, I think this is a well-meaning attempt to alleviate discomfort and suffering, but nevertheless removes one of the oldest and most intelligent self-healing mechanisms in the world. body.
In my years of treating children and families, I have noticed a pattern of results when the body is allowed to have its normal fever response, compared to using medication to suppress the fever. Although anti-fever medications may offer some relief from the discomfort that accompanies the process, it is all too common for the infection to drag on longer, taking more days for the body to work through the process until the resolution. With the use of acetaminophen during infection, it is not uncommon for symptoms of sinus congestion, coughing, stuffy ears, mucus and phlegm, and general malaise to take longer to resolve.
A Note on Covid: For the past two years I have cautioned patients against using Tylenol (or other medications containing acetaminophen) during this infection. During the heaviest Delta variant wave, I noticed some of the worst outcomes and disease progression in patients who used too much Tylenol to relieve discomfort. Many then developed Covid pneumonia or other serious respiratory problems, and almost all would go through a longer Covid infection process. An October 2021 study examining the cases of 524 patients concluded that those who were exposed to acetaminophen had “significantly higher odds of being triaged to higher levels of care” experiencing overall worse outcomes. People with higher exposure to acetaminophen had longer hospital stays, higher death rates, and a higher risk of requiring respiratory support.
Without the use of anti-fever medication, what can be done to support the body through an uncomfortable seasonal viral infection? From a holistic medicine perspective, there are many options, including vitamins and nutrients, herbal and homeopathic medicines, and basics like rest and sleep, eating well and avoiding sugar, everything. staying well hydrated.
When it comes to fever, a simple Epsom salt bath, which is full of magnesium, is helpful in relieving muscle aches and discomfort. Very simple cold compresses on the head and neck are pleasant, and if the fever is high, the bath water can be brought to a lukewarm temperature.
Above all, trust the innate wisdom of your body, whose many intelligent healing mechanisms, including fever, are always working to bring your body back to a place of balance and health.
—Joshua Phillips, ND is a naturopathic physician and director of the Hawthorn Healing Arts Center in Bend. As always, this article is not intended to be medical advice, but for informational purposes only. Health issues should always be treated with the support of your health care provider.