When a child is ill, it is understandable that parents want to do all they can to make their little patient feel better.
If a child has a fever, paracetamol or ibuprofen-based medicines are often the first port of call.
But it appears that a high temperature may actually serve a valuable purpose: fever could actually help children recover from an illness.
An American paediatrician has revealed the high fevers typical of many childhood illnesses can help force a child to slow down, rest and sleep more – all vital in recovering.
This new research further endorses claims from some doctors and researchers who already believe that parents – and many doctors – are ‘fever phobic’, over-anxious about children’s fevers and treating them too readily. Researchers at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children found in recent years that, after four hours, meningitis bacteria cooled to a normal 37c grew faster than bacteria kept at fever heat (40c).‘Fever may play an important role in controlling the growth of this type of bacteria early in the disease,’ the researchers concluded. ‘But more research is needed.’
Fever is defined as a temperature over 37.5c. The major concern is that it could be a sign of something serious. So if your child is also unusually sleepy, has a rash, cold extremities, a stiff neck or difficulty breathing, call your GP. But, according to these studies, most fevers are caused by a viral infection, and clear up on their own within a few days.In a newspaper article from 2010, Dr Anthony Harnden, a GP in the department of Primary Health Care at Oxford University was quoted as saying ‘Fever is a symptom, not a diagnosis. The justification for using drugs is to make a child more comfortable.’
That means tackling the pain of a sore throat, for instance – ibuprofen and paracetamol reduce pain and inflammation.
Dr Wouter Havinga, a locum GP from Gloucestershire, strongly believes fevers should be allowed to run their course and said in the same news article, ‘I’m often called out by parents who are worried that their child has lost control of their temperature,’ he says. ‘They’ve given paracetamol, but it’s not coming down, so they strip them off and fan them. That’s no way to treat a sick person, but they believe the fever itself is harmful.’ The NICE guidelines state: ‘Do not routinely give anti-pyretic (temperature-lowering) drugs to a child with fever with the sole aim of reducing body temperature.’
There is evidence that a fever can actually be beneficial. ‘It’s one of the ways our bodies fight off infection,’ says Dr Havinga. ‘Viruses and bacteria are temperature-sensitive. Once your temperature starts getting up to about 40c, their reproduction rate slows down.’
A Lancet study involving 50 feverish children with malaria found that lowering temperature slowed recovery time. The patients who had paracetamol and quinine took 16 hours longer to get the parasite out of their body than the children who just had quinine. Adults also appear to benefit from recovering naturally. The University of Miami found patients whose fever was ‘aggressively’ lowered as soon as it got to 38.5c did worse than those whose fever was treated only when it reached over 40c.
Commenting on the new research, Hannah Chow-Johnson, assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, said she was often asked what to do about children with a high temperature.
She said: ‘My most frequent calls are from worried parents who want to know how high is too high of a fever. What many parents don’t realise is that often, fevers are their child’s friend. Fevers can actually help your child recover more quickly, especially if he or she is battling a viral illness. I often wish thermometers had a gauge that read either ‘fever’ or ‘no fever.’ That would definitely help parents who worry if their child has a fever that’s too high.’
Horsley chiropractor Julian Keel urges parents who are concerned about a fever to seek immediate help from their GP, NHS Direct or A&E. “I would never advocate ignoring any signs that concern you.”
Julian Keel, chiropractor and father of three, has many young patients and understands how worrying it is for parents when their children are unwell. “Preventative care is of huge benefit whatever your age. I treat children of all ages. Chiropractic and cranial treatment is aimed at keeping the body healthy and robust and if any parent would like to know more about my chiropractic treatment for children I am more than happy to help with or do call our helpful reception team and book in for a consultation. I’m here to help you keep your kids staying healthy”.
From Julian & the Team at Horsley Chiropractic Healthcare
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