MD Insights: Dr. Yost on Fevers
From an MD’s perspective, here’s what you need to know about one of our most common ailments:
First of all, what even is a fever? Why are they one of our body’s most common responses to illness? And how do I know when it’s serious? Let’s dive in:
A fever, first and foremost, is not an illness. It is a symptom and a defense mechanism. When your body’s immune system detects the presence of a pathogen (usually a bacteria or virus), it releases chemicals called pyrogens. Pyrogens act on the part of the brain responsible for regulating body temperature, called the hypothalamus. They cause the hypothalamus to reset the body’s temperature to a higher level, resulting in a fever.
In most cases, fever is a sign that your body is actively fighting an illness. Raising the body’s temperature helps fight off infections by stimulating the immune system and inhibiting the growth of certain microorganisms. However, persistent or excessively high fevers can indicate a more serious underlying condition.
- What is my temperature? Has it been consistent?
- What other symptoms am I experiencing?
- Do I need to seek medical attention?
Did you know that, in adults, a 100° temperature doesn’t always represent a fever? Our bodies naturally fluctuate between a set range of temperatures throughout the day, according to our circadian rhythm. The average adult’s temperature typically sits between 96.5°F and 100.3°F, however it is normal to have variations in this range. Generally, our temperature is lowest early morning and gradually rises through the day, peaking in the late afternoon. Our temperature can also fluctuate based on age, activity level, hormonal changes and other underlying medical conditions.
How to know you actually have a fever:
If your temperature is 100.4°F or higher, you can recognize it immediately as a fever. Generally, a high fever is recognized as above 103°F for adults and above 100.4°F for infants. If the initial reading is below 100.4°F, I recommend two things:
First, wait 3 hours and take your temperature again. Has it gone down? Has it risen?
Second, take account of your body. Are there other symptoms indicating you are sick? How severe are those symptoms? These questions will help guide your decision on next steps.
See a Medical Professional
– Accompanied by symptoms such as:
- severe sore-throat
- chest or abdominal pain
- rash, or
- difficulty breathing
– Below 103°F in adolescents and adults
– Unaccompanied by no other symptoms, or
– Accompanied by symptoms such as:
- mild headache
- mild fatigue
- muscle aches
Dr. James Yost, Chief Medical Officer at CRH Healthcare
An Emory alum with 30 years of healthcare experience and 17 years as a practicing physician, Dr. Yost cares deeply about the patient experience, inside and outside our centers. Starting this year, Dr. Yost will be answering our patients’ most common questions through MD Insights, with practical and trustworthy advice.
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