Fever: how can you best deal with it?

With fever, the body temperature is above 38 degrees. It is a signal from the body that something is wrong and it is an immune response of the body to, for example, a virus that has entered the body. Fever in itself is usually not a reason to intervene. In most cases it will go away on its own. What is the best thing to do if there is a fever and when should you go to the doctor?

What a fever is

The normal body temperature of a human is between 36.5 and 37.5 degrees. In the morning the body temperature is somewhat lower than in the evening. This is because the body is active during the day and is therefore warmed up. On average, young children have a slightly higher body temperature and older people usually a slightly lower one. If the body temperature is higher than 38 degrees, there is a fever. It is a natural reaction of the body and indicates that something is wrong. It can even rise to a temperature of 40 degrees. You often see that someone with a fever will shiver, sweat, become restless, have a reduced appetite and sometimes feel a bit restless. In some cases the patient becomes delirious.


Fever is the body’s immune response to viruses such as flu or a cold. In a smaller number of cases there is a bacterial infection. The body can fight invading viruses or bacteria better at a higher body temperature. Fever in itself is not a cause for alarm and usually does not require treatment. For example, children who are infected with a known childhood disease or after receiving a vaccination can develop a temperature of 40 degrees in a short time. In general it subsides as quickly as it came and there is no reason to worry. Adults are much sicker at a similar temperature.

Measuring the temperature

It is important to measure the temperature correctly. It can be measured in different ways, for example it can be measured in the anus, in the mouth, under the armpit and in the ear. The most reliable measurement is in the anus (rectal). The temperature in the mouth is half a degree lower than in the anus. Recent research shows that the measurement in the ear is not very reliable because it shows a low temperature in some people. This probably has to do with the fact that the ear thermometer must be aimed exactly at the eardrum, which is not always possible. The advantage of an ear thermometer is that it can measure quickly, which can be useful for children.

How often to measure?

Usually you do not have to measure several times a day. It is often annoying for small children and measuring once is usually sufficient. Because body temperature varies so much, determining the presence of fever is more important than measuring the exact temperature. If someone is very ill, it may be useful to repeat the measurement several times a day.

How to act in case of fever?

Because you lose more fluid due to the higher body temperature, extra fluid must be drunk. An adult should drink at least 2 liters of fluid per day, but this does not have to be 2 liters for a child. Please note that the elderly and small children are at greater risk of dehydration due to fever. They must pay extra attention to their fluid intake. If there is diarrhea or vomiting, one must be even more alert to dehydration because it can happen very quickly. Make sure that the body can lose the heat and do not wrap yourself or your child too thickly. You do not necessarily have to stay in bed with a fever. But the patient does have to take it easy for a while. If there is a need for bed rest, give in to it. This only benefits the healing process.

The resources you can use

It is not necessary for the body temperature to be lowered by taking a medicine. If the fever is accompanied by a headache or other complaints, a painkiller is sometimes used. The painkillers used for this have the additional effect of lowering the fever. Be aware that the body has a fever for a reason, and is therefore contrary to an infection. The first choice as a painkiller is paracetamol and this is also the first choice in case of fever. Special suppositories containing paracetamol in different strengths are available for young children.

Products that are not recommended

Acetylsalicylic acid, better known under the brand name aspirin, can reduce fever well. Moreover, it also has an anti-inflammatory effect. This drug was widely used before the advent of paracetamol. However, it is less suitable because of the side effects. Under no circumstances should children use acetylsalicylic acid because they may develop Reye’s syndrome. This is a rare condition that can cause fatal damage to the brain and liver. It is associated with the use of aspirin by children. Ibuprofen and naproxen also reduce fever, but possibly less effectively than paracetamol. Moreover, these drugs also have more side effects than paracetamol, such as stomach complaints.

When to go to the doctor?

The fever usually goes away on its own. If an adult has a fever of 39.5 degrees for more than 4 days, it is better to go to the doctor. However, more important than the height and duration of the fever are the additional symptoms. If there is a high fever in combination with a stiff neck that is painful when bending, or in combination with shortness of breath and drowsiness, it is also better to go to the doctor. People with a chronic illness, heart failure or cardiac arrhythmia, asthma or COPD, should go to the doctor after three days of fever, because fever can worsen diseases.

In children

Go to the doctor as soon as possible if your child suddenly has a high fever and appears ill, is inconsolable, groans, is dazed, has a stiff neck or if pinpoint hemorrhages are visible in the skin. Also if the child wants to drink less in combination with a high fever. If a child under three months of age develops a fever, you should contact your doctor immediately. In small children, you should also contact your doctor if the fever remains above 39.5 for more than three days.

Febrile convulsion

The child suddenly starts pulling and jerking violently with the arms and legs. Sometimes breathing even stops for a moment. It looks a bit like an epileptic seizure, but it is not. A febrile convulsion only occurs in young children and it looks serious. It usually lasts no more than a few minutes and goes away on its own. The child then wants to sleep and is difficult to wake up. After an hour the child is ready to speak again. If a child has a febrile convulsion, remain calm and place the child on his or her side or stomach. If it lasts too long or returns, see your doctor. It does not cause brain damage. Usually it remains one time. It occurs when the temperature of the body rises very quickly in a short period of time, as can occur in the case of a fever.

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