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Fever: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

What Causes A Fever, and How Do You Treat One?

Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology Profile Photo

Written by Camille Freking, MS Pharmacology on November 8, 2021

No matter how healthy you are or how lucky you might be, everyone gets a fever sooner or later. Often the first sign of a cold or the flu, fevers are an unpleasant but temporary issue that usually clear up by themselves after a couple of days, though you’ll first have to deal with some sweating and chills at the least.

But even though most of us experience fevers from time to time, it can be worrying for parents when they see their children get their first fevers or if they themselves get an intense fever that lasts for what feels like longer than usual.

Knowledge is power -- here are the causes of fevers and how you can alleviate a fever using medicine and proven homeopathic remedies, made clean.

What is a Fever?

A fever is a biological state where the body’s temperature rises higher than normal. In adults, the average healthy body temperature hovers around 98.6°F. However, it’s important to remember that your normal body temperature can range between 97°F to 99°F.

Therefore, many physicians don’t consider you to have a “real” fever until your temperature reaches around 100°F.

Fevers are automatic biological responses that your body induces after its immune system detects the presence of a threat. To be even more specific, fevers occur when your brain’s hypothalamus, which is essentially the thermostat for your entire body, sets a higher temperature for your body overall.

Many viruses and bacteria are particularly vulnerable to temperature changes like the one induced by a fever. They are often evolutionarily suited to your body’s normal temperature range, so when your body detects a pathogen, it may raise its own temperature by expending extra energy in an attempt to kill those foreign pathogens.

This response is hardwired into our physiology. Think of a fever as your body’s automatic defense system.

What Are Fever Symptoms?

As a fever raises your body’s overall temperature, it can often be accompanied by a number of other signs and symptoms associated with the fever-causing disease, including nausea, dizziness, fatigue, or chills.

Typical fever symptoms can include:

  • Sweating
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Muscle aches
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness or fatigue

Note that fevers are not diseases, and you cannot “catch” a fever the same way you can catch a cold or come down with an illness.

Since fevers are automatic body responses to infection, most fevers typically go away after a few hours or a few days depending on the root cause. Furthermore, some physicians recommend that fevers actually be allowed to persist so they can eliminate whatever invader they’re trying to target.

Some fevers can become dangerous in addition to just being uncomfortable if they run for too long or your body raises its temperature too high, so it’s important to get in touch with a healthcare provider if your fever reaches temperatures of 101°F or higher. If your child has a fever over 101°F, you should contact their pediatrician right away. Children’s fevers are often more dangerous than adult fevers since their immune systems are still developing.

You can check for a fever by using a standard thermometer to check your temperature. Depending on the type of thermometer, you’ll insert it into your mouth, under your armpit, or take a touchless infrared reading about an inch in front of your forehead. For certain thermometers, you will have to press and/or hold a button until you hear a beep to indicate the reading has been taken.

The vast majority of low-grade fevers (above 98.7 degrees Fahrenheit and less than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit) are not much to worry about. This said it’s a good idea to visit a doctor if you have a fever associated with other uncomfortable or disruptive symptoms such as:

  • Severe headaches or migraines
  • Chest or abdominal pains
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Rashes that spread across the skin
  • A stiff neck, particularly when bending down or forward
  • Mental confusion or difficulty thinking
  • Seizures or convulsions

Can A Fever Be Caused By A Virus?

Yes. In fact, fevers are often caused by viruses.

A virus is a small infectious cell type that, upon entering your body, tries to take over other cells to replicate itself in rapid succession. Left unchecked, viruses can be very dangerous.

Fortunately, our bodies have well-developed immune systems that leverage multiple biological defenses to counteract viruses. Your body’s immune system is a network of cells and physiological response centers that deploy countermeasures after detecting the presence of a foreign pathogen.

However, your body’s immune system will also sometimes induce a fever as a means of defending the body. By raising its internal temperature, your body becomes a less hospitable place for the majority of infectious viruses. The virus cell walls break down or “denature” over time, leading to cell death.

This is a double-edged sword, however. Fevers cannot run for too long since the temperature increase can affect your own body’s cells as well -- this is why your fever usually breaks after a few days.

As your body’s immune system monitors the situation, it will generally lower your temperature back to normal once it recognizes that the infection is under control.

However, fevers are not only caused by viruses. They may also be caused as side effects of larger conditions or in response to other invaders that your immune system perceives as a threat.

Are Fevers Contagious On Their Own?

No, fevers do not “spread.” Fevers are always physiological responses to other illnesses or causes and are not a symptom that can “transfer” to another person.

Even so, it's important to always stay home and minimize contact between yourself and others if you’re experiencing a fever, especially if you don’t know what’s causing it.

Additionally, the fact that fevers are primarily caused by viral infections means that many people suffering from them are virally contagious, meaning that while the fever isn’t what’s spreading, what’s causing the fever is.

All in all, while fevers themselves are not contagious, the underlying causes of fevers may very well be, especially viruses. Fevers can “spread” in this way as an infection travels from person to person in a household or even a community.

How Long Does A Normal Fever Last?

It depends on the severity of the fever and the underlying cause. The majority of fevers typically go away by themselves within 1 to 3 days. This is about the amount of time that it takes for your immune system to fully gear up into action and ramp up its defenses.

After this period, the fever typically subsides as the infection in your body is defeated.

However, your body's immune system can remain on "high alert" for a number of days after the infection has been defeated. This is an evolutionary defense mechanism designed to prevent infections from going into hibernation in your body and returning once the fever dies down.

Therefore, some people experience recurring fevers that can persist for up to 14 days. They may experience a few days where their fever is particularly bad, have a few days of relief, then feel the fever come back.

While this isn’t generally cause for alarm, especially if it’s a low-grade fever, it’s important to still monitor your fever to make sure it’s not rising every day or hanging around alongside other symptoms like body aches and congestion. Even minor fevers that last for longer than average could indicate a serious condition or lead to long-lasting side effects.

For example, a recurring fever could indicate that there is a more virulent or difficult illness currently running rampant in your body. Additionally, fevers can take a significant toll on the body, draining it of energy and valuable resources it needs to stay healthy elsewhere.

Many people lose their appetites or may not drink as much as normal when they have a fever. This is not an issue when the fever doesn’t last very long, but fevers that last for longer can cause severe dehydration and malnutrition as an indirect effect of making it unpleasant to eat and drink.

It’s more difficult to maintain adequate care and nutritional goals when dealing with a long-term fever. The body’s tissues may even degrade or become weakened or damaged over time.

Ultimately you should contact a doctor if you or your child has a fever that lasts for more than three days without breaking.

What About Nighttime Fevers?

Many people experience more intense fever symptoms at night. This is especially true for children, who may regularly suffer from so-called “night fevers.”

This physiological cycle happens for a few big reasons. For starters, it’s normal for your body’s temperature to increase at night. When you fall asleep, your body expends a lot of heat for processes like repair and metabolism.

Furthermore, many people bundle themselves up under blankets when they sleep. When you have a fever, this can make your body temperature spike dangerously quickly. Bedrooms don’t often have adequate ventilation, and you don’t generally move around while you are asleep, so you don’t get a cooling effect from passing air.

Because of this, it’s common for fevers to feel more manageable during the day and seem to get worse during the night. You should not call a fever “broken” or gone until a full night has passed and the morning brings relief.

Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate the effects of fevers, plus methods to make any fever less intense (more on those below).

What Other Ailments Cause Fever?

Bacteria and viruses are the two most common causes of fevers. However, they are not the only causes. You might experience a fever because of chronic conditions, injuries, and more.

Heat Exhaustion

Many people experience fever-like symptoms when they are affected by heat exhaustion.

In a nutshell, heat exhaustion occurs when your body overheats. It’s a condition related to heat cramps, which are milder, and heatstroke, which is more severe.

Your body can overheat for any number of reasons, such as regular exposure to really high temperatures (like being in a hot kitchen or spending too much time in the summer sun), performing excessively strenuous activity in a hot and humid environment, working outdoors without hydrating properly, and more.

When your body overheats, you may suddenly be overcome with symptoms like sweating, shaking, nausea, fatigue, and other similar symptoms. You might also feel dizzy or experience muscle cramps. All of these are similar symptoms to those you might experience with a typical fever, which makes sense since the cause of the symptoms is similar.

However, heat exhaustion is not caused by an illness or inflammatory response. You can treat heat exhaustion by cooling down rapidly, rehydrating, and getting out of the circumstances or conditions that induced the heat exhaustion in the first place.

Inflammatory Conditions

Some individuals experience repeated or recurring fevers due to autoinflammatory diseases. An autoinflammatory disease indicates an issue with part of your immune system (specifically the part that rapidly responds to new intruders). When working properly, your immune system detects a threat to your body, like an injury or an infection, and immediately sends white blood cells to the problem site.

This response is noticeable on a physiological level as well. Scrape your knee, and you’ll see redness and swelling around the affected area. This is your immune system at work.

However, an autoimmune disease sometimes means that your immune system either overreacts or does not trigger properly. As a result, your immune system may trigger repeated fevers, inflammation, and other symptoms for what seems like no apparent reason, or upon detecting a very mild irritant.

Though they are similar in some ways, it's important to note that autoinflammatory diseases are not the same things as autoimmune diseases. Fevers are a hallmark symptom of autoinflammatory diseases rather than autoimmune issues.

Unfortunately, if you have repeated fevers due to an autoinflammatory disease, the only long-term treatment is medication. You should see a doctor if you believe you are suffering from autoinflammatory disease-related fevers, such as repeated fevers within a couple of weeks or fevers that last for a long time despite not feeling ill otherwise.

Malignant Tumors

Many people with diagnosed or undiagnosed cancer can also experience repeated fevers. This occurs for several reasons. For one, tumor cells often release compounds called cytokines, which can trigger a fever when detected by your immune system. Since malignant tumors may remain undiagnosed for quite some time due to their small size, your immune system could flare up repeatedly for no apparent reason even though it is engaged in an important battle for your body’s health.

For another, cancer patients frequently undergo aggressive treatments in order to treat the malignant tumor before it spreads and leads to more severe symptoms. Many cancer treatments, like antibiotics or chemotherapy drugs, can cause fevers as a side effect.

In these cases, your immune system overreacts and attacks the very things that are supposed to assist with cancer tumor removal. There’s little means to stop your immune system from doing this aside from taking immune system suppressants, which can unfortunately make you more vulnerable to infectious diseases and future fevers.

Medication Reactions

As touched on above, fevers may also be triggered repeatedly due to reactions to certain medications. Antibiotics by their very nature affect the bacterial balance in your body. Although it may seem counterintuitive, your body makes use of helpful bacteria all the time, particularly in the gut. Your gut microbiome plays a key role in digestion and overall digestive system health.

When you take antibiotics, they deliberately disrupt the bacterial presence in your body to kill harmful bacteria. But antibiotics are not discriminatory and may also kill helpful bacteria, leading to an immune system response in the form of a fever.

This is just one example of the kinds of changes that drugs and intense medications can induce in your body. Other drugs might:

  • Interfere with how heat is dissipated throughout your body, leading to fever-like symptoms if not triggering an actual fever
  • Increase your body’s metabolic rate, leading to greater expenditure of body heat
  • Cause a humoral immune response due to the way the medication interacts with your immune system or various trigger cells throughout your body
  • Mimic the appearance of other hormones, which might also trigger your immune system to flare up and start a fever as a reaction
  • Damage certain tissues, depending on the medication used (cancer medications). When this occurs, your immune system naturally thinks of this as a problem and immediately induces a fever to try to mend the damage or kill any hostile bacteria or viruses

Alongside all of those potential causes, certain medications can also cause an allergic reaction, inducing a drug-related fever as a result. It’s important to review the ingredients of the medications that you or your child takes, especially if you or your child have a known allergy to an active or inactive ingredient in the medication. Unfortunately, with so much medication being full of unnecessary additives and chemicals, it's tough to know whether a given medicine will be appropriate for you or your child or if that medicine will induce an allergic response.


It’s important to get vaccinated, however, it’s also known that some children and adults can experience temporary fevers after getting immunized.

This is a normal response. A vaccination typically works by giving your immune system a chance to familiarize itself with harmless viruses so that, in the event that your body ever comes into contact with the live version of the virus, it can act quickly and prevent the virus from taking hold because it already has an idea of how to recognize it and fight it off.

However, immunization also triggers your immune system as a side effect. So, it’s not surprising that many people experience mild fevers after getting a vaccination shot. The good news is that these fevers should subside quite quickly since your immune system will rapidly deal with the “infection” and return to normal.

But as always, contact your doctor if your fever lasts for longer than three days or if it passes 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. You should also contact your doctor about immunization options if you have an autoinflammatory disease, as your immune system could be over-triggered by something as typically harmless as a yearly flu shot.

All in all, there are dozens of potential reasons why you might experience a fever. Furthermore, it’s normal for kids to experience more fevers than adults. Their immune systems are not as experienced as their adult counterparts, so they may flare up and respond aggressively to new infections more often and more severely.

Should You Send Your Kid To School If They Have a Fever?

Absolutely not. As discussed above, fevers themselves are not contagious, but they are often present because of other contagions, like viruses. Due to this fact, kids who have fevers are likely to spread whatever illness they have to other children or teachers at school, particularly since fevers and often-accompanying symptoms can cause you to expel bodily fluids more frequently.

Additionally, kids are unlikely to feel well enough to go to school and perform as they normally would when under the effects of a fever. Traditional fevers include a number of uncomfortable symptoms like dizziness, exhaustion, dehydration, and more.

It’s simply unwise to send your child to school if they have any fever, even if it’s low-grade. Instead, you might consider letting your child relax and recuperate at home.

Not only does this prevent their illness from spreading around, but it may also help them recover from the fever more quickly. When you become sick, your body needs lots of time to rest so it can devote its energy to fighting off the illness. It’ll be easier to make sure that your child is properly fed and hydrated if they stay home from school while under the effects of a fever.

It's a much better decision to let your child stay home from a fever for a day or two than it is to make them go to school and potentially drag out their illness for four to five days.

How To Treat Your Kid’s Fever

Speaking of treating your child’s fever, there’s a lot of debate about the appropriate response for parents when they take their child’s temperature and discover it’s a little higher than normal. Some people will swear up and down that cough or cold medicine is the way to go, while other parents will say that no medication is needed to take care of a regular fever.

Who’s right?

In truth, normal fevers don’t need medication to fade away. A regular fever should burn itself out after between one and three days. The viral illness causing the fever should be largely under control by this time, so the fever will subside and your child will feel roughly back to normal as well.

However, some fever medications can be quite beneficial, providing your child with greater comfort and alleviating some of the more unpleasant symptoms so they can sleep and gain the rest they need to fully recover.

It's often difficult for kids to sleep at night and get the rest required for full recuperation since they're so used to the symptoms or may not be able to relax because of their discomfort.

As a result, fever medication can be a good choice for parents who want the best for their children. The trick is in discovering and using the right medication since some over-the-counter or OTC medications may carry the potential for more harm than benefits, so talk to your doctor first before using a medication to treat fever.

There’s more information about fever medication below. However, you can also practice ancillary strategies to treat fever symptoms and your children and help them recover more quickly.

Wear Loose Clothes or Few Clothes

One great strategy is to have your child wear loose clothes or as few clothes as possible. As mentioned in the information about nighttime fevers, it’s easy to trap body heat by wearing multiple layers, especially in warmer months.

You can help your child avoid exacerbating their fever symptoms by having them wear loose clothing like a light shirt and shorts. This extends to bedtime as well – since their body temperature will go up anyway, see if they’d be comfortable sleeping without whole-body pajamas.

Don’t Sleep with Covers

Similarly, try to convince your child to not go to sleep with the covers over their body. Covers trap any body heat and can make nighttime fevers much worse, as well as make it more difficult for any sweat to evaporate properly. Other good nighttime fever remedies include opening the windows to your child's bedroom and making sure the air-conditioner is turned on.

Drink Lots of Water or Juice

Your child should be properly hydrated throughout the duration of their fever. Make sure they drink plenty of water throughout the day even if they don’t want to. You can also offer alternative beverages like juice or broth if they want something with flavor. As a bonus, juice and broth can provide them with some nutrients at the same time.

What’s Wrong With Traditional Pain And Fever Medication

Let’s take a closer look at the fever medicine problem.

Simply put, many traditional pain and fever medications are overdeveloped and are chock-full of unnecessary ingredients that don’t do anything to assist with the core fever symptoms. Even though they may not be toxic by themselves, some ingredients can lead to toxic side effects or even allergic reactions, potentially making fever symptoms worse.

What Kinds of Traditional Pain & Fever Medication Are There?

There are two broad types of pain and fever medication. The first are called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. These medications are used to relieve fevers and cold pain, as well as reduce swelling from issues like muscle sprains or arthritis.

NSAIDs are often present in over-the-counter medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, and more. Others may be prescribed by a doctor.

The other major type of pain and fever medication uses an active ingredient called acetaminophen, which is the primary ingredient in over-the-counter Tylenol. Acetaminophen can relieve common aches and pains alongside fever and headaches, although it does not relieve inflammation.

Naturally, the vast majority of traditional pain and fever medications will use either acetaminophen as the active ingredient or be NSAIDs. But there are other problems with common OTC medications we’ll go over below.

Inactive Ingredients in Pain & Fever Medication

In medications, there are “active” ingredients that are designed to treat the advertised symptoms or do the medicine’s primary job. There are also “inactive” ingredients that are instead used for ancillary purposes, such as to add a flavorful taste to the drug, make it easier to digest, make it last longer on the shelf, or more.

Inactive ingredients are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. But many typical OTC medications use far too many inactive ingredients and pack their medicines full of chemicals or synthetic additives.

For instance, take a look at the inactive ingredient list for Children's TYLENOL® Liquid Medicine Cherry, 4 Fl. Oz:

  • Carnauba wax
  • Castor oil
  • Corn starch
  • Magnesium stearate
  • Red #40 aluminum lake
  • Hypromellose
  • Powdered cellulose
  • Propylene glycol
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Sodium starch glycolic
  • Shellac
  • Pregelatinized starch

Does any of that have anything to do with actually treating your child’s fever? Not at all. This is a pervasive problem in the modern medicine industry.

It’s incredibly hard to find effective pain and fever medication for kids without extensive inactive ingredient lists. These ingredients are often synthesized in a lab and can lead to allergic reactions (as described above) or other toxic reactions in your children.

Harmful Dyes in Cold Medicines

Furthermore, many typical kids' medications contain unnecessary dyes to change the color of the cough syrup or pill. For example, Vicks NyQuil, a common nighttime cold medicine, often uses Red 40: a red food dye that does nothing for the actual performance of the drug. It only gives it a red hue.

When it comes to medicine, there’s no reason to give your child unnecessary dyes and other ingredients. All you need is clean, effective ingredients that get the job done with a minimum of potential for side effects.

Untruthful Marketing

Perhaps most disconcerting of all is the untruthful marketing that many OTC medication brands rely on to sell their products. There’s a reason that modern medicine commercials have long side effect lists near the end.

Why Clean Medicines For Treating Fever Are Better

All in all, it’s a much better idea to pursue more natural medicine, particularly for kids. The fewer ingredients you have in a pain or fever medicine, the fewer potential side effects you have to concern yourself with and the lower the likelihood that your child will experience an allergic reaction..

Remember, kids’ systems are more sensitive than adults’, particularly when it comes to digestion and immune system functionality. Giving them medicine that isn’t too complex to properly digest or absorb is the only responsible choice.

No unnecessary dyes. No unnecessary artificial ingredients. No potential allergic reactions or side effects from artificial fillers.. Just real medicine, made clean.

In the end, fevers are natural but complex responses to infections and other conditions. Thanks to Genexa, you can rest assured that you do have safe, more natural medicine options for handling fever symptoms.