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Fevers and Medication

Parenting is hard work. Um, duh.

It's exponentially worse when your kid is sick. We don't want our kids to suffer, ever. But that's impossible. We can practice all the preventative, supportive interventions and yet, sometimes, they still get sick.

Hopefully they don't get sick often, and when they get sick - you are armed with the tools to support their little systems in getting better fast. And then they're even stronger once they recover.

If this is not the case for your littles - please reach out to your friendly neighbourhood Naturopathic Doctor so we can create a wellness plan to getting your child's overall health on track.

In the meantime, let's talk about Fevers and Medications.

You may have heard that there is a shortage of children's Tylenol and Advil in Canada right now. PLEASE DON'T PANIC!

There are other options to manage your child's fever and pain. While rapid and effective, Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen are not harmless and also, not the only game in town.

Let's explore....

Firstly... . What is a fever?

A fever is a rise in body temperature by at least 1 degree. Realistically, we really only consider it a true fever if the temperature is over 100F/38C

In an adult, the higher the fever, the more severe the illness. This is NOT generally the case when it comes to children under the age of 8. Some kids just spike high fevers - I've seen kids go up to 105F/40.5C just from teething. Other kids might plateau at 100F/37.7C and be suffering with a serious meningitis infection. Don't worry about the number. Pay attention to the child.

If at any point a fever is higher than 106F/41C- this is rare and dangerous and should ALWAYS be investigated.

Why does your child have a fever?

Fevers are a signal the body gives to tell us there is something going on. It could be an infection or other illness, it could be teething or a growth spurt, it could be dehydration, overexertion, a reaction to a bug bite or sting, it could be caused by a sunburn, an allergic reaction or even constipation. Fevers in kids can occur after exercise or even by being overdressed. Stop and pay attention to your kid - how are they acting? How are they feeling? This will help you determine whether they need treatment in the form of medication, or simply fluids and rest.

Why is fever a thing?

Fever is a valuable immune response!

  • It warns us that an infectious or inflammatory process is taking place in the body

  • It is one of the body's natural defense mechanisms - Hippocrates (considered the father of modern medicine) called it cooking away the disease

  • The simple elevation of body temperature inhibits the ability of viruses and bacteria to replicate, they can't survive in the higher temperature, so they become immobilized and start to die off.

  • Being able to mount a fever is a good sign that the immune system is strong and vital enough to do it's job of regulating the internal temperature

  • A fever is an ally in infection fighting - don't fight the fever, fight the pathogen

There is an established theory that many children will demonstrate new skills and abilities after recovering from a fever, and they seem healthier and stronger than before the fever.

As if the heat of the fever was a motivating developmental force and the toxins and impurities are burned away, leaving the pure vitality behind. Visualize the heat burning up the germs and bugs. Fevers aren't all bad!

***Red Flags*** AKA - When to see a doctor:

  • any signs of dehydration in an infant, or a child who will not accept liquids - look for a sunken fontanelle, dry mucus membranes, sunken eyes, tenting skin - these are all signs of dehydration

  • febrile seizures should be investigated

  • any fever in a child under 3 months of age

  • any fever reaching 106F/41C

  • if the child is listless, lethargic, unusually sleepy and difficult to rouse, in great pain, extremely irritable, has a stiff neck, trouble breathing, projectile vomiting, confused, rolling eyes, losing consciousness, has a significant decrease in urine output OR just doesn't seem right to you - trust your instinct and get some individualized, professional support ASAP

  • if the fever is high and does not respond to any treatment - this is also a good reason to access support.

OK. So that's what and why. Nobody wants their kid to suffer, even when it is serving a purpose. So what can we do about it?


REST Hopefully in 2022 this goes without saying, but if your child has a fever - keep them home! This is both to prevent the spread of infection but also to allow them to heal. Quiet, calm, comfy rest.

Raising the internal body temperature to kill off pathogens is hard work - bodies with fever must REST.

FLUIDS - Vital. Non-negotiable. Fever will often diminish the appetite. That's fine, don't force food - the body is conserving digestive energy to fight the infection by increasing body temperature, it can't spare the energy needed to digest - just push liquids.

Dehydration is the main risk when it comes to fever - especially with kids - so the number one treatment for complications from fever is HYDRATING

This can be done through water, juice, coconut water, popsicles, teas, soups, broths, use a funky straw or a cool sippy cup, even a teaspoon or syringe can be helpful if they are hesitant to drink, but you must get the fluids in. Nursing babies should have unlimited access to breastmilk.

Vitamin C - this is a very helpful supplement to help combat fevers and minor infections. Chewables for over the age of 3. For very little ones you can get powdered Vitamin C and mix it with water.

  • according to the NIH the maximum dosage for children ages 1-3 is 400mg Vitamin C daily. 650mg for children ages 4-8yrs old, 1200mg for children 9-12 yrs old.

Vitamin D, Probiotics and Zinc all have great evidence supporting their use in both preventing and shortening the duration of colds and flus. Dosage and type depends on age and symptoms - please reach out to your provider for dosing support. These vitamins should be continued for at least a week after symptoms have resolved to avoid a relapse and really support the hard working immune system.

Botanicals: Here is a list of herbs that can naturally and rapidly reduce a fever, decrease chills and induce sweating - to help the body fight infection, eliminating the need for the fever.

Any one or combination of these herbs, in the form of a glycerite, tea or tincture, whichever ones you have access to and whatever your child finds palatable can help. You do not need to use all of them. These herbs in tea bags can also be placed in the bathwater to be absorbed through the skin.

Nursing parents can treat themselves with these herbs - the therapeutic effect will pass through the breastmilk to baby.

  • Lemon Balm - especially great for tummy upsets and fussiness

  • Chamomile - great for tummy upset and irritability, don't use if they are sensitive to ragweed

  • Mint - especially if child is feeling very warm

  • Ginger - especially if the child is cold and shivery, great for coughs and congestion

  • Licorice - great for sore throat and cough

  • Elderberry - clears heat, reduces infections

  • Catnip - very effective for high fevers

  • Passionflower - great when fever is accompanied by anxious feelings

  • Oatstraw - great calming herb, helpful for sleep

  • Linden - cooling and helpful for a feeling of constriction in the chest or throat

  • Skullcap - great when fever is accompanied by a headache

  • Yarrow - best when accompanied by body aches

  • Echinacea - great all around anti-microbial, immune system enhander

Hydrotherapy: If the child is chilled you want to warm them up with blankets, heating pads, hot water bottles, hot baths, a sauna if you have access to one. This may temporarily increase the fever - but this can be a good thing - again, the temperature of the body needs to be high enough to stop the pathogens from replicating so the child can get better. At no point should you be uncomfortably over heating your child - the intention is always to make them more comfortable, not less. Base the intervention around their comfort level and what they can tolerate. Don't push it.

If you child is overheated you may want to cool them off with a tepid bath. If shivers occur at any point, stop and warm them up. We don't want them to get chilled, we want them to be comfortable.

A sponge bath can also be very helpful and can work quite rapidly - place your child in a tub of waist deep lukewarm water. Lower the temperature by letting cold water run into the tub and use a wet washcloth/sponge to cleanse the exposed skin, face and hair. Do this for no longer than 10-15 minutes. Pat dry and allow to air dry in a cool room. Protect from drafts or chill!

In the absence of a whole bath just a cool cloth placed on the forehead, temples, back of the neck and wrists can also be very helpful to cool off a hot child (or adult)

Sweating is a good thing - it means the fever is working it's way out. It also contributes to fluid loss - keep hydrating!

The Wet Sock Treatment, or Magic Socks are warming socks that can be used to clear congestion in the head, sinuses or lungs, reduce fevers and inflammation and improve overall health. An easy, free and non-invasive method of boosting your immune system. Sounds wacky, but it really works!

Directions: 1. Ensure feet are warm before beginning the treatment. This may be a warm bath or foot soak, or simply keeping them warm under the covers or in socks before beginning.

2. Soak one pair of thin cotton socks with water. Wring the socks out thoroughly so they do not drip and are just damp.

3. Optional: rub a little essential oil on the feet – eucalyptus, thyme or oregano mixed with a carrier oil such as castor, olive or almond. If you have a decongestant chest rub, this works great.

4. Place wet socks on feet and cover immediately with thick, preferably wool socks. Make sure no part of the wet sock is exposed. Go directly to bed, cover with blankets. Avoid getting chilled.

5. Keep the socks on overnight. The wet cotton socks will be dry in the morning.

This treatment is safe for babies (without the added essential oils), children and adults who are feeling under the weather, congested, run down, etc. Safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is not appropriate for anyone with a circulatory disorder, advanced stages of diabetes, certain cancers and other immune deficiencies. If the socks are still wet in the morning or if you have a pre existing chronic condition, please contact your ND before commencing or continuing with this therapy.


Keep in mind - medicating a fever does nothing for the illness, the infection, the underlying cause of the fever, it simply lowers the temperature and can reduce the aches and pains associated with the fever. That said, there is a time and a place for Treating a fever with medication:

  • If the temperature remains higher than 103.5 F / 39.5C for over an hour, after trying the above methods

  • if the child has a history of febrile seizures

  • if the fever is interfering with sleep at any point - this is when to treat. Can't get better without sleep - prioritize the sleep.

Medication risks: Tylenol use in both children and adults is associated with liver toxicity and increases the risk of developing asthma. Tylenol burns up glutathione, a naturally occurring antioxidant in the body.

Advil can cause gastritis and stomach bleeding from repeated use - even just daily for a full week.

This is not meant to scare, simply to inform. These useful medications exist for a reason, but they are vastly overused. It shouldn't be the first thing to reach for.

Febrile Seizures: Up to 1 in 25 kids can have a seizure with their fever, so it's a good thing to be aware of.

  • febrile seizures are caused by a rapid increase in temperature, not necessarily how high the temperature gets

  • most commonly occur in children between 6 months and 5 years old

  • they rarely have lasting consequences and do not predispose to epilepsy or any other seizure disorder

  • once a child has had one febrile seizure they are more likely to have another seizure with any subsequent fever

  • it has been found that kids who are prone to febrile seizures tend to have higher IQs, so - silver lining?

  • if your child does have a seizure the most important thing is to make sure the area they are in is safe and they will not be able to fall or smash their head or limbs. Once it is over, consult with your health care provider. A hospital visit is not indicated if the seizure resolves on its own after a few seconds to a minute.

Above all else - TRUST YOUR INTUITION and get a health care provider on your team who you can consult with, who you respect and whose methods are in line with your own health values.

You got this. I'm here for you.

Further reading:


Dr Dori Skye Engel,
Naturopathic Doctor & Doula

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