Fevers: To Treat or Not To Treat?

Written by:

Maia James

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!

Stay sane,

Maia, Founder & CEO

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Leave a Reply

  1. Amanda Avatar

    Today was the first day I've ever seen this web site, but I'm glad I found it! My 14 month old son has had a fever for the past 3 days, and today he was burning up with 103. 6 temp. Our first notion would be to give him a pain med/fever reducer, but I was thinking that's just defeating the purpose of a fever – the body's way of getting toxins out.

  2. Maia James Avatar
    Maia James

    Hi Eve-

    Since writing this post, I've stopped using Tylenol and am sticking to Motrin if Felix needs it again….In addition to autism links, recent studies connect acetaminophen with asthma (which runs in my husband's family). I wrote a short post about this here: https://gimmethegoodstuff.org/blog/2011/12/22/childrens-tylenol-linked-to-asthma.html.

    I'm sure there are problems with ibuprofen as well, so I'm going to continue to be judicious in administrating any medications. I'm with you, however, that there are times when I'm so so glad there is something to bring relief.

  3. eve Avatar

    i've been stressing over this for some time now! bar has had 2 fevers recently (my older daughter didn't have any in infancy, so we never dealt with this…ironically, i'm sure she's the culprit). i am very very hesitant to give tylenol and believe that a fever needs to take it's course. our bodies (even little ones) are very smart and work very well if we let them do what they need to do. that said, once in a while, tylenol allows the comfort we all need to sleep through those tough nights.
    i'm curious what the difference between tylenol and motrin is though in this respect…do you have more information on that?

    so glad to have been introduced to your blog;)

  4. Maia James Avatar
    Maia James

    Thanks, Emma. I am so glad that the site has been helpful. Thanks for reading!

  5. Emma Avatar

    Hello, I just wanted to say that your blog has been really useful for me..
    I need all the help I can get, lol.. Thnx