Over the last several decades we have been persuaded to fear fevers in children as they are often the first and, maybe only, sign that a child is ill and the possibilities of severe illnesses are the first things that come to a parent’s mind. A fever is merely a sign that the child is ill but the level of fever does not necessarily correlate to the severity of the illness. It is possible for a toddler to have a 104 F fever and have a simple viral illness, nothing more. It is also possible for them to play through it as if nothing was wrong! The current guideline is that if an infant is under 3 months of age then any fever should be reported to the child’s physician as the newborn infant often has a lower fever than normal and it could be something more serious so any fever warrants some level of checking into in those first few months. After that though, the likelihood of serious issues goes way down and we can look at the fever more calmly. For children older than 3 months of age, fevers can range from 99.5- 105F and be a completely normal immune response to any number of common viral illnesses. The level of fever can be highly variable throughout the day and from child to child so there is less predictability in level of fever and seriousness of illness. If the fever comes with the telltale signs of viral illness (runny nose, irritability, sleeplessness, and mild cough) then you can usually treat at home. Keep them well hydrated and let them eat simple, healthy foods like soups or broths, or small amounts of their favorite proteins and whole grain snack and vegetables and whole fruits. Don’t despair if their appetite is down, that is normal as well. Once their fever is above 102F they tend to be more irritable and uncomfortable. At this point I like to give some herbal remedies to help support their immune response and to cool the fever just a little to help them be more comfortable and maybe get some rest. My favorite fever remedies are:
Simple Fever Tea
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)
Spearmint or Peppermint (Mentha spicata or Mentha piperita)
You can use a tea bag of each to make a cup of tea or use 2 tsp of each and steep in hot water for 10 minutes, strain and cool. Give at least 1 teaspoon of tea to the child every 15 minutes or so (or more if they want to drink it all at once). Keep offering every hour to help keep them hydrated. I like Spearmint over Peppermint because it has a milder, sweeter flavor to it. Chamomile is antiviral and cooling but also helps digestion so is perfect for improving their appetite as well.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Chamomile (Matericaria chamomilla)
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Linden Flowers (Tilia spp.)
I blend about 1 Tablespoon of each herb into 1 quart of hot water and steep for 20 minutes. Then strain, add a little honey (about 1 Tbsp) and pour into popsicle molds. Freeze and then offer as a nice treat to hydrate and cool down the feverish child.
Remember that a fever that lasts over 3 days (especially without other symptoms) or is high for more than 24 hours in an infant 3-6 months or any fever in a child less than 3 months old or the fever is over 105 F will to see their physician or urgent care for a full evaluation.
Dr. Sheila Kingsbury is a Naturopathic Physician, Lactation Consultant and Registered Herbalist. Dr. Kingsbury is a 2003 graduate of Bastyr University’s naturopathic medicine program and a Licensed Primary Care Provider in Washington State. Dr. Kingsbury is currently the chair of the Botanical Medicine department as well as Associate Professor in the School of Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University. She regularly teaches courses in Botanical Medicine, Lactation and Pediatrics at Bastyr University and in the community. Dr. Kingsbury has had extensive training in Pediatrics, Maternity and Post-partum care and Botanical Medicine. Dr. Kingsbury worked in the public health field for 5 years prior to her medical training and has been a labor support doula for 16 years and a Lactation Consultant for 14 years. She is the current President of the Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, a former council member for the American Herbalists Guild and an Advisory Board member for the Lloyd Library and Museum.