Dealing with Childhood Fevers

We have nothing to fear of fever but our own fear. Fever is a very sensible, rational activity of the body when it is faced with certain types of stress. It is the activation of the body’s garbage incinerator, burning up debris and toxic matter that are of no use to the body’s normal functioning. These may be bacteria, virus, breakdown products of the body’s metabolism, or other extraneous proteins in the bloodstream.

In the case of children, fever can serve a very good purpose. Children are continuously rebuilding and remodeling their bodies as they grow. As with any renovation project, debris results. In Anthroposophic medicine, the theory is that childhood illnesses are simply a way of disposing of unwanted cells and tissues. Hence, colds, skin eruptions and fevers are normal expressions of a normal process. Parents sometimes get excessively concerned. According to Jane Brody, in her New York Times column “Too Many Parents are Afflicted with Fever Phobia,” the pediatric literature points out that “undue attention to a child’s temperature and mishandling of fevers generate a great deal of unwarranted parental anxiety, avoidable medical complications, and countless calls and costly visits to doctors, clinics, and emergency rooms.”

According to Ms Brody, our natural thermostat is found in the hypothalamus, in the brain; this is normally set at a range of 97 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit in infants or young children. When it’s time to turn on the incinerator, the immune system goes into action and pushes up the thermostat. The higher temperature kills the noxious bacteria, thus acting as the body’s own natural antibiotic. Fever also lowers the levels of iron and other nutrients in the blood which help feed the bacteria. Thus, a fever both cooks and starves the bacteria. Reducing the fever through drugs or other means can then in fact interfere with the body’s own healing system.

Fever itself is acknowledged to be of little consequence; even the dreaded febrile seizures rarely cause injury to a normal brain unless they go on for more than an hour[1]. Body temperature almost never will go as high as 107′ F, the point where there is danger of brain damage[2] , except if the body is prevented from cooling itself off through restriction of fluids or air circulation. Therefore, one possible danger from fever is dehydration, which can easily be prevented by providing ample water to the feverish person. Drugs such as aspirin or acetaminophen work by forcing the hypothalamus to lower the body’s thermostat setting[3]. This artificial lowering of body temperature interferes with the immune system’s intent to raise it. If the body is intent on having a fever, it will resist getting it lowered by the pendulum swing method: body makes fever, drug reduces fever, body makes higher fever to assert itself. Worse yet, according to Keith Block, MD, a drug may shut down this otherwise responsive action to the problem, possibly setting the stage for more serious illness[4]. Reye’s syndrome, the potentially fatal illness that manifests as severe brain disturbances, increased pressure on the brain, and fatty degeneration of internal organs such as the liver, is a condition that results from giving children aspirin to lower the fever during flu or chicken pox.

Even natural techniques for lowering a fever, such as cold water spongings, although they may not have a significant adverse effect, may delay recovery by slowing down the body’s natural healing system. When my oldest daughter was about seven years old, she developed a fever from eating too much rich food. As it was summer and quite hot, I tried cooling her and sponging her off, but the fever resisted for about four days, more than the usual one or two days we’d had other times. She got well, but I kept thinking about it. Then I read Jane Brody’s article, where she pointed out that the body should be helped when it wants to have a fever. I remembered that one common way to treat a fever used to be wrapping patients in blankets to warm them up and speed up the process. Many of my students have told me that their grandmothers used to do just that. When my youngest developed a fever, I decided to try this new approach. This time, instead of cooling her, I warmed her up by wrapping her in blankets and giving her hot stuff to drink; however, I did keep a cold washcloth on her head to keep her brain from heating up. The result was that she fell asleep, sweated copiously, and was finished with her fever in two hours.

Chinese medicine believes that fever originates in the small intestine, which is on the Fire meridian. In my experience, fevers in children raised on a natural food, mostly vegetarian diet, generally come from the overconsumption of animal protein foods such as milk products, chicken, or meat. If that is not the case (as in vegan children), it may be the exposure to pollutants or chemicals, or at times something strange the child picked up off the floor. My first-born daughter once got a fever and indigestion because she drank some over-chlorinated water from a pool; the problem passed in a day, as soon as the materials worked their way out of her body.

Fevers are also caused by childhood illnesses, indigestion, or infections; these will generally be accompanied by additional symptoms. If a fever occurs as part of a childhood disease, all the natural ways of handling the fever will still be of help. A fever that is part of a cold or flu is also best treated with natural techniques. However, parents should be attentive to fevers that come on after an immunization. These are quite common, as vaccines force foreign proteins into a child’s bloodstream. In these cases the toxic matter or debris entered by injection, not through the usual internal/mucus membrane channels, therefore the reactions may be stronger. When that happens, natural remedies may not be enough, and a medical or homeopathic doctor should be consulted. In addition, if the fever lasts more than a day or two, if there are additional symptoms such as headaches or neck pain, or if it comes on as a result of another illness, consult a health professional.

The best way to deal with simple childhood fevers is to help the body do its job. I call it the grandmother system: warm it up, go along with it, instead of cooling it down and going against it. Here are some simple home remedies:

Do not offer solid foods, but do offer plenty of fluids, warm or at room temperature, such as chamomile tea, warm diluted apple juice, water either plain or with lemon, or the traditional barley water. To make barley water, simmer 2 tablespoons barley in 1 ½ cup water, covered, for an hour. Strain and serve.

Keep the child warm, wrapped in blankets, while feeding fluids every 15-20 minutes. Keep the head cool with a washcloth dipped in cold tap water and wrung out; change often. When the child breaks into a sweat, healing is on the way.

If the child is restless, draw a bath of the same temperature as the fever, measured with the same thermometer. Note: a 101 – 102′ bath feels hot to you but will feel just right to the one with the same body temperature. Put the child in the bath and allow playing and splashing for 15-20 minutes. Then wrap in bedclothes and put to bed. I used this from the time my children were 8 months old, and it was consistently one of the most successful fever remedies I ever used.

References

[1] . Brody, Jane E., “Too many parents are afflicted with fever phobia.” New York Times, January 6, 1993.

[2] . Brace, Edward R., & Pacanowski, MD, FAAP, Childhood Symptoms: Every Parent’s Guide to Childhood Illnesses, p. 120. Harper & Row, New York: 1985.

[3] . Brody, ibid.

[4] . Personal communication to the author, February 1996.