In my parents’ generation the main treatment for a cold or flu was lowering the fever. Aspirin was avoided for children because it could cause Reye’s syndrome, but Tylenol was given. These days ibuprofen or naproxen are popular options for lowering a fever. But what if lowering the fever makes you sicker in the long run? What if it impairs your body’s effort to kick the bug out?
That is exactly what is happening. If you start to feel sick and get chills, the last thing you really want to do is lower the fever. It does not help you get better any faster. Instead of popping pills intended to keep yourself from getting a fever, you want to facilitate the fever. This is because fever is part of your immune system’s way of dominating infections and kicking them out. Once you realize this, you will know what to do. You might even be able to prevent yourself from getting all the way sick.
Whenever you feel strangely cold, it could be because your body has decided to turn up its internal thermostat. Chills are a sign that your body wants to be hotter. The best thing you can do is help it get as hot as it wants. Drinking hot tea, wrapping up in a blanket, curling up next to a fire are a good start. A hot bath is great. It’s hard to keep a bathtub hot for very long so boil a kettle of water and keep it on the side to pour in (carefully!!) when your water starts to cool down. If you have access to a hot tub or sauna where you won’t infect others, those are even better. Put on a warm hat or hoodie. Make a hot water bottle and put it on your midsection or your feet. Curl up with the kittie. The only warming thing you don’t really want to do is to exercise because you probably feel really tired if you have a fever and it will only make you more tired. Get warm and rest.
If your body is getting sick, it is mounting an immune response to something. You want it to do that. You want it to get the fever because that will help it get rid of the infection. Heating treatments are used for cancer too, because heat activates the immune system. There is nothing wrong with letting your body get a degree or three warmer than it usually is!
Unfortunately as we get older our bodies don’t get fevers like they used to. Kids make great fevers, so high that they can have harmless seizures from being so hot. Adults can get good fevers, high enough to kick infections, but rarely hot enough to cause seizures. Old people sometimes don’t get fevers at all, and this is a problem, because it’s hard to tell when they have an infection, and because the infections can hang around a long time. Regular heating treatments for elders are not a bad idea even when they are not sure if they’re sick. Some elders have low body temperatures to start with so if their temperature measures as “normal” (98.6F) they actually are having a fever.
Obviously you must be careful when using boiling water, heating pads or anything hot that you do not burn someone. A body temperature of 99F or more generally counts as a fever and if it gets over 101F or so your fever is getting real. This means the body is fighting something it considers dangerous. Generally we get higher fevers from bacterial infections than from viral ones, but getting our body totally warm helps us beat viruses just like it helps us beat bacteria.
The moral of the story is that fevers are good! If you get a fever, that means you are healthy enough to have a functional immune system, and it is doing its job. If you get the chills, your body is serious about beating an infection, and the best thing you can do is to get yourself toasty warm, drink liquids, and rest. Don’t eat food, that distracts the immune system, much of which lives in the intestine. Just get yourself hot and wait it out.
When your body suddenly starts sweating and you feel way too hot, the fever has broken. It’s OK to take off your hat and get out from the covers when this happens. The fever might come back again, or it might not. If it comes back again, drink hot liquids and cover up and get warm again. Usually after a few cycles of this the illness will be over. Unlike the lingering sickness that would have happened if you lowered the fever with pills and stopped your immune system from working. So be thankful for the innate intelligence of your body and enjoy the fever! It’s what nature intended.