Basic Fever First Aid

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This week, we will take a look at basic first aid for fevers- when to know if you should seek medical assistance, when it is ok to let them run their course, and what kind of thermometer to keep in your first aid kit. Next week, we will take a look at the class of herbs- called diaphoretics-  that have traditionally been used to support the body during a fever, and explore the phenomenon of fevers from an herbal perspective.

So, first off- what causes a fever? A fever is a rise in internal body temperature usually triggered by the immune system as a response to bacterial or viral infection. This is different than hyperthermia- which is caused by the body’s inability to regulate its temperature when faced with high external temperatures in the environment (like a heat wave in summer).

In a healthy adult, most fevers aren’t dangerous. Problematic fevers for normal adults and children are anything over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, or any fever that lasts for more than three days. For children under two, a fever for more than one day is a good time to call the doctor. Serious fevers for babies three months old or younger start much lower, though: if a three month old or younger baby has a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, it should see a doctor.

Other important signs to look for that indicate that someone should be taken to the doctor include: severe headaches, stiff neck with pain when you bend your head forward, mental confusion, or extreme listlessness, irritability or other extreme emotional states. If diarrhea or vomiting is present along with the fever, the person should be watched carefully to make sure they are getting enough fluids so that dehydration doesn’t set in.

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Now, what about thermometers? The push over the past several years to phase out mercury thermometers means that the most of the available thermometer options are going to be digital, battery operated models. This is fine when you live close to the store and can run out for another battery- because it seems like the battery always goes dead just when you need it- but there are two other options that should be considered as back up.

The best option to consider is probably a clinical grade, mercury- free glass thermometer. No batteries to fail. They are glass, though- which means care should be taken not to drop them and to store them in their case. These use a non-toxic liquid in the bulb as a substitute for the mercury found in older models.  These can be found for less than ten dollars each, so cost-wise they are even competitive with digital thermometers.


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Agatha is an herbalist and author in Atlanta, Georgia. She founded Indie Herbalist in 2011. Her herbal recipe book, The Complete Guide to Adaptogens, is available wherever books are sold. To listen to her podcast or enroll in one of her herbal courses, visit Indie Herbalist's sister site, Teacup Alchemy.