Getting a fever is definitely uncomfortable: the sweats, the mucus, the fatigue, the aches ... we’ve all been there. As a society, we've viewed this as a bad thing, but could our new understanding of germs and our immune system be pointing us to a new understanding of fever as beneficial?
As a new parent, I've been subject to "fever phobia," and in fact, more visits and calls to the pediatrician are generated by fever than any other symptom. For years, holistic pediatricians have been touting the idea that using common drugs for fever might be doing more harm than good, and now the science is starting to back that up.
All of us, not just children and parents, need to take note of this new science, as the conclusions are pretty crucial for our ongoing health and wellness. Here are four reasons to think twice before medicating for fever.
1. It can increase the transmission to others.
In a recent study, Canadian researchers found that the widespread use of medications that contain fever-reducing drugs (including ibuprofen, acetaminophen and acetylsalicylic acid) may lead to tens of thousands more influenza cases, and more than a thousand deaths attributable to influenza, each year across North America.
The lead researcher concluded, "Because fever can actually help lower the amount of virus in a sick person's body and reduce the chance of transmitting disease to others, taking drugs that reduce fever can increase transmission. We've discovered that this increase has significant effects when we scale up to the level of the whole population."
2. It can lead to other diseases.
In studies out last year, it seems that using Tylenol during pregnancy could impair the neurodevelopment of a child in the womb. Other studies suggest that use of fever reducing medication in kids after vaccination (when fevers are common as the immune system upregulates) could be playing a key role in the autism epidemic.
Furthermore, antibiotics for fever are an even bigger problem. Not only are antibiotics not suitable for viral illnesses (even though they're prescribed regularly), the overuse of antibiotics has several knock-on effects including susceptibility to chronic conditions like allergies, digestive issues and systemic inflammation.
3. Having a fever can actually boost your immunity.
Traditional cultures respected the role of fever in overall health, our society sees it as a problem that needs to controlled. The increase in temperature that's the core function of fever is a specific reaction by the body to create a less hospitable environment for pathogens. Numerous studies have shown that fever enhances the immune response by disabling bacteria and viruses.
Our developing understanding of the immune system is that it operates like a muscle, and that is must be challenged in order to strengthen. Fever may be an appropriate response and is a natural adaptive response to allow the immune system to operate at a higher level in the future.
"Having a fever might be uncomfortable," says Dr. John Wherry, deputy editor of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, but research shows that it's "part of an effective immune response."
4. Mucus is good for you.
New studies looking at mucus have concluded that there's more to mucus production than just protection and lubrication. Bacteriophages that adhere to the mucus provide extra immune support when you get sick and are part of an amazingly symbiotic relationship with our microbes that we're only just starting to understand.
So what to do when a fever comes along, especially in kids?
Well the first thing to consider is that taking action might not be the best thing to do. Trusting your body's immune response is a good starting point, and some rest, drinking plenty of water and bone broths are likely the best starting point.