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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.

Now, knowing what a fever is, what should you do when you have one? The most important questions we need to answer are these:
  • What is my temperature? Has it been consistent?
  • What other symptoms am I experiencing?
  • Do I need to seek medical attention?
Your answer to the first two will determine your answer to the third, so let’s begin with those. 
sick person

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

If the fever is,
– Persistent for more than a few days
– Not improving despite home remedies or over-the-counter medications
– Accompanied by symptoms such as:
  • severe sore-throat
  • chest or abdominal pain
  • rash, or
  • difficulty breathing
You should seek the care of a medical professional. This can be at your local urgent care center, your primary care doctor, or in severe cases, your local emergency room. 

Your Choice 

If the fever is,
– Below 103°F in adolescents and adults
– Unaccompanied by no other symptoms, or
– Accompanied by symptoms such as:
  • congestion
  • mild headache
  • mild fatigue
  • muscle aches
It’s usually ok to first try some simple home remedies, before investing your time and money into a medical visit. I will share my suggestions below.
doctor with patient
doctor with patient

If your symptoms fall into the Your Choice category, then you decide how to proceed! It’s always OK to still seek medical help if you are unsure. However, if you would like to try and avoid the time and expense of a doctor’s visit, you can first try a couple simple tools for managing your symptoms at home. 

-First, stay hydrated and stay rested. Both of these things will help your body fight off the underlying cause of the fever.
Keep your space at a cool, comfortable temperature and wear lightweight, breathable clothing; this will help your body regulate temperature.
Use a humidifier if the air in your space is dry. This will help soothe respiratory passages and ease breathing. 
-Finally, for managing a mild fever with mild symptoms, you can first treat yourself with the appropriate dosage of an over-the-counter medicine like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

These simple remedies are great methods for managing your symptoms while waiting to see if the condition improves, sustains, or worsens.

urgent care doctor

MD Insights

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.

Know Before You Go

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