After an unprecedented four months of wellness, Felix had a bad cold last week that left him feverish for five interminable days. Predictably, Daylon and I debated whether to give Felix some children’s Tylenol or just let the fever run its course.
Our usual rule of thumb is to reserve the Tylenol for those times when Felix is especially uncomfortable–which is obviously a subjective determination.
If Felix is sick and will lie around and nurse, read books, or (gasp!) watch TV, even if he is clearly feeling poorly, I don’t rush for the fever reducers. If, on the other hand, Felix is crying or whimpering, or if he’s telling me that something hurts, I give him children’s Tylenol or Motrin.
Why I Don’t Like Treating Fevers
I have three big concerns with administering a pain killer/fever reducer when Felix is ill.
- It masks the symptoms. When Felix has a fever, he lies still, eats very little, and sleeps a lot. When we treat the fever, he feels better and wants to run around, play, and eat. While of course it heartens me to see him so improved, intuition tells me that it would be better for him to rest more and move about less while fighting a virus. Perhaps his body even knows that eating requires too much effort for digestion and the appetite is suppressed in an effort to conserve energy.
- No medication is without side effects. I worry about the long-term consequences of children’s Tylenol and the like, especially in light of recent recalls as well as studies that show a potential link between acetaminophen and autism.
- The fever probably helps the body heal. Beyond ensuring that Felix rests, I suspect that the fever is also beneficial to the healing process, perhaps even triggering the immune response. Studies support this hypothesis, although it is unclear if giving a fever reducer lengthens the duration of infection.
When I Treat Fevers
Beyond the obvious goal of reducing his suffering (and our own!), Daylon and I give Felix children’s Tylenol to:
- Allow all of us to get some sleep. If Felix is too uncomfortable to sleep more than a few minutes at a stretch, I give him a fever reducer so that we all can rest.
- Make sure it’s just a minor illness. Sometimes if a fever has stuck around for more than a couple of days and I’m starting to fret, Daylon suggests giving Felix some Tylenol to see if his behavior improves. Felix always ends up running around, playing, and eating, and therefore we are assured that his distress was in fact caused by the fever and not something more sinister.
In the case of his most recent cold, as soon as Felix recovered, I came down with the same nasty bug. Of course, I helped myself to plenty of aspirin each day to combat the killer headache and raw throat that came with it!