When to call the doctor for a fever

This morning I gave a talk on ear infections and fevers for Momstown Ottawa’s Baby Basics group. They had lots of great questions so I thought I’d share some of the key points of the presentation.

Below is a summary of signs and symptoms that go along with a fever and would indicate the need to take your child to the doctor:

Symptom list:

  • Your child appears lethargic, listless and unresponsive to stimuli
  • Excessive sleepiness or you cannot wake your child
  • Extreme irritability that cannot be consoled
  • Stiffness in the neck or neck pain
  • Difficulty breathing and wheezing
  • Decreased urine output
  • If your child just doesn’t seem right to you, use your mother’s intuition!

Fever is the body’s natural response to an infection and the high temperature kills bacteria and viruses.  The high temperature also mobilizes immune system cells to help the body fight off the infection. If the fever is accompanied by the above list of symptoms call your doctor right away.

If your child has a fever with mild cold and flu symptoms allow the fever to run its course and keep your child as comfortable as possible.  If your child is too uncomfortable you can always try the magic socks treatment for lowering a fever naturally.

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Using the therapeutic properties of water to manage your child’s fever

What is hydrotherapy?

The therapeutic use of water (internally or externally) to stimulate healing of the body and maintain good health is known as ‘Hydrotherapy’.  Using water to stimulate healing has been around since the 1600s and was one of the principle treatment methods of the first naturopathic doctors.

Water can be used in various ways to modify circulation patterns in the body and therefore change the amount and quality of the blood being supplied to specific organs.

Water treatments that target the organs of elimination like the skin, large intestine, kidneys and liver aid in the detoxification of the blood.  The action of the blood is to deliver oxygen, nutrients, hormones and immune system molecules throughout the body.

Using hydrotherapy, you can detoxify and improve the quality of your blood as well as improve the efficiency of its delivery to vital organs thus, supporting and optimizing the functions of the body.

What is going on in my child’s body when they have a fever?

When your child’s body is fighting an infection, it reacts by producing a fever.  A fever is typically defined as having a temperature higher than 37 degrees Celsius.  It is important to remember that a child’s body temperature varies throughout the day so the actual temperature that defines a fever may be different for each child.

A fever can be viewed as a positive reaction to an infection because it means your child’s immune system is actively trying to fight off the infection.  The purpose of a fever is to increase the production and speed of action of white blood cells which fight infection.  In addition, many bacteria and viruses cannot survive at this elevated temperature.

When does my child need to see a doctor?

Although a fever is a normal response to an infection, having a high temperature for a prolonged period of time indicates your child’s illness is more severe and can lead to complications like febrile seizures.  Whenever your child has a fever it is best to seek the advice of a medical practitioner who can assess the cause and severity of the fever based on your child’s health history and other presenting symptoms.

Critical temperatures for calling a doctor:

  1. Any child less than 6 months old with a fever
  2. Age 6 months to 3 years: temperature higher than 38.9 degrees Celsius
  3. Over 3 years: temperature higher than 40 degrees Celsius
  4. Regardless of age, any of the following symptoms are present: difficulty breathing or swallowing, neck pain/stiffness, lethargic and very sleepy, decreased urination, any indication that your child doesn’t seem right to you (mommy intuition!)

If your child’s fever is creeping up to a critical temperature you can reduce it using hydrotherapy.  Reducing a fever can also make your child feel more comfortable and usually they will look and feel better.

If you have reduced a fever and your child still looks and feels terribly sick, it is likely their symptoms were not a result of a fever but rather a result of a serious infection.  At this point it is highly recommended that you see a medical practitioner.

How to reduce a fever using hydrotherapy: 

Use the ‘Wet Socks’ or ‘Magic Socks’ (this one sounds less unpleasant) Protocol

You will need 1 pair of thin cotton socks and 1 pair of thick wool socks.

1. Make sure your child’s feet are warm prior to treatment.  Warm them with your hands or bathe your child.

2. Dry your child’s feet.

3. Soak a pair of thin cotton socks in cold water and wring them out.

4. Apply cold, wet socks to your child’s warm feet.

5. Apply thick wool socks over the cold, wet cotton socks.

6. Put your child to bed, making sure they are warmly covered under their blankets.

7.  When your child wakes in the morning the socks should be dry.

The body reacts to the cold, wet socks by shifting the flow of blood downwards to the feet to warm them.  Prolonged cold also results in the body producing less heat and eliminating more heat which leads to a reduction of the fever once you wake in the morning.   You may repeat the Magic Socks protocol for up to 3 days.

It works great for adults too! 🙂

Here’s a great video of a little girl explaining how to do the Magic Socks treatment: