Fevers are nature’s way of fighting off organisms that cause sickness by creating an environment that is inhospitable to pathogenic life forms.
Fevers are also instrumental in developing and fine-tuning the immune system to deal with future illnesses.
Even though seeing a child fever is hard to watch, it is foolish to silence it, because unless the system is challenged, the child will not develop strength and resistance.
A fever arrives because the child is stressed or weakened or because there is a pathogen virulent enough to cause it. A high fever helps to fight infection by increasing white blood cells and it slows down the reproduction of the invading pathogen.
When there is a fever, it is wise to help the child fight it on his own, by giving him appropriate foods, enough hydration, and herbal remedies.
In today’s culture where both parents are working, it is common for children whose fevers have been suppressed by medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or antibiotics to suddenly appear well, and as a result, the child is sent back to daycare or school. However, when the day is over, parents see that the medication given did not end the pathogenic experience, and the child remains ill.
Most childhood fevers need to run their course and be followed by rest and replenishment. This is the key to building a strong immunity so essential for life.
Most childhood fevers are viral in nature and are often seen with colds and flus. It is important to remind parents that fevers often appear after immunizations.
A good rule of thumb for any fevering child is to keep them away from drafts and air conditioning while ill and to keep them at home for two to three days after the fever has disappeared. This is important because it is easy to be attacked by wind or cold – both during a fever, and in the days following one. During those few days spent at home and before returning to school or daycare, the child can rest and replenish.
Fever That Needs Allopathic Care
Generally, when there is a fever in a newborn, parents should seek an allopathic diagnosis. For children beyond neonatal life, a fever that does not resolve after 48 hours, despite careful attention, could be bacterial in nature and the child may be unable to easily resolve it on his own. It is at this time that allopathic assistance may be called upon.
Learning To Assess A Fever
Having been a midwife and seeing women at birth centers who also had their kids with them, there was plenty of opportunity to evaluate kids who were coughing, acting out, crying, etc. During those birth center days, I learned a quick method of assessing the child in question, and it didn’t require a thermometer, an otoscope, or any other tool. If there is a thermometer, it can be used for confirmation of findings, and in that situation, is a great teaching tool.
When assessing a fever, check the temperature of the skin, especially the axilla (arm pit). You can also feel the head, especially at Tai Yang (temple), and this can be done with the back of your hand, which has greater sensitivity to temperature changes than your palm. If a child resists the thermometer or the parent wants a quick way to assess a fever without resorting to a thermometer each and every time she wonders if there is a fever, you can feel for heat in the child’s axilla or to use her cheek against Tai Yang, which was the way I was taught by my grandmother to take a temperature.
If these areas are especially hot, you will know right away that there is a fever, and taking a temperature with a thermometer will tell you exactly how high it is. A normal temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit if taken orally, and one degree less if taken axillary. It’s important to wait ten minutes if the child has just ingested something hot or cold, or the reading could be inaccurate. When the fever is high, respirations and heart rates are elevated.
I find a good method for measuring the heat/fever is by listening to the heart and counting the beats within a specific amount of time, such as 30 or 60 seconds. When the heart is beating very fast, you can be sure the temperature is over 101. Newborn babies have very rapid heart rates, with the most normal rate being approximately between 130 and 145 beats per minute. (The normal range for a newborn is 120-160.) You will need a watch with a second hand on it. As children age, their heart rate decreases, so that by age one a normal heart rate might be down to 120 per minute, and by two years old it may be down to 108.
Remember that children tend to fever high, and temperatures of 103 and 104 degrees are not unusual. Children who have strong Qi consistently fever high. Children with temperatures of 104 degrees or higher, for over 2 ½ days, who are not able to sleep, eat, or drink, and are not responding to acupuncture or herbal formulas, need to be sent to an allopathic physician for evaluation. Most viral conditions resolve the fever or have it decrease by 48 hours, but bacterial infections will linger and not resolve.
However, for children who consistently fever high with viral conditions, keep this in mind and do not panic. Some children just run very high fevers for simple problems such as teething or viral conditions, and parents need to understand this while they keep the fever from getting too high by using techniques and herbs designed to do that.
Children who fever high should have a cloth that is several degrees lower than their body at their neck and their head or temples. Initially they might resist this, because the cloth will feel cold and uncomfortable to them, but within seconds the cloth will warm. Always begin this application slowly so that the child is not shocked by the change in temperature. Once you begin this, keep the cloth cool by dipping into tepid water, and keep applying. This will temporarily reduce the fever and provide safety to the brain. However, this should not be done day after day without medical supervision. I have known some parents whose children consistently fevered high at 105 degrees for viral conditions, after immunizations, or teething, who would use an ice pack wrapped in a towel and applied to the vertex of the head or the nape of the neck during the height of the fever.
Deficient children are less likely to have high fevers but they can be as sick or sicker than a child with a high fever and you will know this through their behavior. If they are fevering, not drinking or nursing, and are lethargic or crying weakly for more than 48 hours, they should be seen and evaluated by an allopathic physician. Most children have at least several high fevers in their lifetimes, and do well through the course of the fevers, but you must make sure that the child is not dehydrated or too sick to fight the fever without medical help. Always hydrate a child or baby when there is a fever.
There is always the chance that a fevering child will have a seizure. These are called febrile seizures and occur when the temperature is over 102, especially when a fever rises suddenly. The word “sudden” shows that Wind, the leader of 100 diseases, has taken place, so the best treatment is to prevent a sudden rise of temperature. This is done by sponging the child with tepid water or applying a cool cloth to the head, temples, or neck, and keeping the child in a cool environment and clothing.
Febrile seizures can have symptoms of jerking or twitching for mere seconds or convulsing from 1-2 minutes and on rare occasions up to 10 minutes.
Long seizures can have a loss of urine or bowels, loss of consciousness, or eyes rolling back into the head. If this occurs, after the seizure bathe the child in water three to four degrees less than her temperature to bring the fever down temporarily. I advise parents to lay the child on the floor away from objects and furniture and on her side. This will prevent the child from falling off a bed or hitting herself with sharp objects as well as preventing her from aspirating any food or fluid in her mouth while seizing.
What is important here is that the parents do not panic, because what the child needs is their calm and reassurance. There are some children who consistently seize with fevers and parents learn how to stay grounded and attentive during them without running to a hospital each time it occurs, as emergency rooms are forced to do a lumbar puncture with children who are fevering high and convulsing.
If seizures continue during one illness, the child needs to be seen by an allopathic physician for evaluation. Most seizures occur to babies between 12 and 18 months, although they can occur from 6 months to 5 years of age.
I advise parents that their child only wear cotton during fevers. Cotton breathes whereas synthetic cloth holds in the heat and the toxin, raising the temperature further.
When I lived in British Columbia on Vancouver Island, I knew of an 18-month-old child whose parents I midwifed. The child had bronchitis and was fevering. It was the dead of winter where it was dark by 4 PM, and the only heat in the house was wood heat, which was in the main room. The bedroom was in a different corner of the house and was always freezing cold. That night was snowing and you could see your breath inside the house. During the night the parents dressed their child in a synthetic onesie, and put a little cap on her head. They had a down comforter on their bed, but because it had been so cold they had a few extra blankets, and then they put the child in between them for the night, thinking that they were doing the right thing. When they awoke in the morning their baby was dead. I tell you this because the proper dressing of a child who is fevering is essential to understand, and putting them in a relatively cool environment is also of the utmost importance.
You cannot gauge what clothing a fevering child should wear based upon what you are wearing. In this instance, gauge their clothing by their heat. Also, clothes with the colors red, orange, and bright yellow are not good for fevering children. Colors should be cool, like mint green, sky blue, or white. When a child is fevering, do not cover the head and do not cover in multiple blankets. To assess if a child is cold or not while fevering, insert a hand under the clothing and onto the thigh or shoulder. If they are warm, despite a cold nose or cold hands, the child is warm. Also, remember to not put a fevering child in a draft or in an air-conditioned room.
It is important to know that if using medication, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is hard on the liver, so ibuprofen (Motrin) is a better choice. However, essential oils can also be effective. Dilutions in carrier oils of peppermint, wintergreen, copaiba or eucalyptus oil can be rubbed on the skin along the associated organ Shu points (along the outer spine) or a few drops can be added to a diffuser and taken in via the lungs. These are common oils known to reduce fevers.
A few drops of wintergreen or peppermint oil in a carrier oil can be rubbed on the Shu points along the Urinary Bladder meridian (along both sides of the outer spine), the soles and palms of the feet and hands, or a drop or two of the essential oil can be added to a drink. A few drops of eucalyptus or nutmeg oil can be added to ¼ cup of water.
Foods and Liquids During a Fever
While a child is fevering, their appetite is normally gone. However, you must hydrate them.
For nursing babies and children this is not difficult, as they tend to want to be at the breast for nearly continual feeding. For children who are not nursing, this is most easily done with lemon water, watered down juices, or cooling teas such as catnip, elderberry, chrysanthemum and honeysuckle. Even adding a teaspoon of maple syrup to a cup of hot water is acceptable.
Cooling foods such as fruit popsicles, clear liquids, broths, or melons—specifically honeydew, watermelon, and cantaloupe are also good. Bananas, grapefruit and mulberries are cold, and blueberries, lemon, pear, persimmon, and strawberries are cooling. If they can sip a broth or eat gruel, barley is a cold grain, and brown rice and pearl barley are cooling ones, and a touch of maple syrup can be added for compliance.
Most children will refuse food when fevering high, but if you have little bites of different types of melons available and presented like bite size little balls, the child may accept them, one bite at a time.
- Always keep a few drinks by the bedside of a fevering child. If the child is too old for a bottle, then have a bendable straw.
- Avoid foods that bind the bowels such as rice or wheat. Remember that bowel movements are a way of moving the heat out.
Foods and Liquids for Post-Fever Care
After the fever breaks, give foods that are easy to digest, such as the congee suggested above.
If the child craves a particular food, follow that craving. Remember to continue to hydrate. A healthy ginger ale could be helpful because it aids digestion and is seen as a prize sort of drink, which helps with compliance. Pears quartered, covered with water and cooked are good to reduce phlegm in the lungs and are often readily accepted because they are sweet and delicious.
Diluted amazake made from rice koji is good after a fever because it is nourishing and easy to digest. If there is phlegm, Lo Han Guo cubes are good because they are sweet, will nourish the lungs, and hydrate once made into a tea.
Don’t forget “Recharge” for older children, which is a drink that balances electrolytes and is always helpful after a fever.
The Element of Water
Water is a method that is almost always available. As already stated, a tepid bath 3-4 degrees cooler than the child is helpful in temporarily reducing a fever. Again, what is important here is that the water should not be too cool or the child will cry from the shock of it.
A brew of mint or lavender flowers, or some drops of Wintergreen or Peppermint oil can be added as well as oils already mentioned, as these will assist the water in cooling the heat. If you have lavender flowers, make a brew, dip the cloth into it, and while in the bath, sponge the head with this.
Another method of bringing down the fever that I learned from my beloved teacher Dr. Miriam Lee is a ginger infusion footbath.
To do this, grate or slice fresh ginger and put into a pot big enough to immerse the child’s feet into. Bring the water and ginger to a boil for twenty minutes so the water is infused with the ginger, and when it has cooled down some, bring it to the child and immerse the feet into it. The water should still be relatively hot, but not hot enough for the child to resist it.
I have encouraged the parent to also put toys and maybe even flowers into the pot, which makes the footbath more interesting. Keep the feet in this for as long as the child will let you, and if the water cools down too much but the child is still enjoying it, just add more hot water. Snuggle the child at this time, give him a foot rub, read a story, or let him splash in the water. Just try to keep the feet in the water for enough time that the feet turn pink and are toasty warm when they are removed.
This method pulls the heat out of the head descending it into the feet and gives comfort by reducing headache, heat in the Upper Jiao, or just cooling the head to reduce the fever. You can repeat this footbath several times during the day.
Besides being physically therapeutic, a footbath is a very healing thing to do energetically. If your child is unable to participate in this bath, then put some sliced ginger between two pairs of socks and it will work in a similar manner.
If the child is only moderately fevering 99, 100, 101, or 102 degrees, and has not moved the bowels, encourage laxative foods or laxatives.
Since the bowels retain the heat and toxin, when there is movement, the fever can automatically diminish or sometimes even disappear. Prune juice is good for this, or stewed apricots and prunes. Both the fruit and the juice are helpful in lubricating the bowels and since they are sweet, there is mostly compliance. If a dozen of each fruit are stewed, then continue to feed this to the child until the pot has been emptied as well as the bowels.
Again, do not feed foods that bind the bowels such as rice, bread, pastas, pizza, and peanut butter, as they slow down elimination.
You can also promote bowel movements by running your hand in a quick stroke downward on the child’s sacrum, and this can be repeated 50 to 100 times within a minute or two. For an infant or toddler, this is most easily done when one parent holds the child in the burping position, and the other parent does the downward strokes on the bum. This directs the Qi downward and awakens the bowels. For an older child, lying on the belly is another good position for this Tuina technique. You can also put pressure on Gv 1/Chang Qiang, or even press or tickle the anus, as this often awakens the bowels. For very stubborn cases, you or your practitioner may glove up and using a pinkie finger, stimulate the sigmoid colon for evacuation. Once the bowels move, the child should be peppier and the fever should reduce.
If you have tried all the above suggestions and the child still has not moved his bowels in 24 hours or more and has a high fever, consider an enema. Your practitioner can advise on dosage, syringe type, fluid mixture and application method. Your practitioner will also be able to assess when and if it is appropriate to see an allopathic physician.
There are also instances when the child is fevering high, the enema is given, and there is no result of a bowel movement nor does a drop of water come out. When this occurs, the child is so dehydrated that the bowels take up the fluid, which actually hydrates the child. For children who are fevering high and refuse to drink, this has worked for hydration. Repeat this procedure until the bowels no longer take up the fluid. If this level of dehydration persists, the child must be seen by a medical doctor or taken to an ER.
Enemas are not advised for a child with a bowel infection such as appendicitis or a bowel obstruction. Seek allopathic care.
Good Common Sense
One of the tasks for those of us working in a family practice is teaching parents the difference between fevers that can be dealt with at home, and those that need to be seen by allopathic physicians. It is important for parents to realize that it is not necessary to consult physicians for each and every fever, and it is, more often than not, unnecessary.
Parents, are after all, their child’s first pediatrician. It is important parents learn the skills to assess, observe, treat and use good common sense to care for their young ones.
This article was modified from the original appearing on the Mayway website.