Fever | Common causes and when should you worry?
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has made us fear the words “fever”, “cough”, “sore throat” and other symptoms associated with COVID-19. Earlier, fever was not an immediate cause of concern, unless it was related to other conditions such as fever in a surgical patient. Today, however, even a mild fever can result in panic and quarantine. In this article, we will look closer at “fever”, measuring it and how to understand if it is harmless or indicative of something far more serious.
What is a fever?
A fever (or hyperthermia) is defined as a temporary increase in your body temperature. Fever is not a condition on its own, in fact, it is one of the first symptoms that indicates something amiss in your body. A body temperature above 98.6℉ is considered to be a fever. While fever is uncomfortable in adults, in most cases, it need not cause concern unless it crosses 102℉.
What are the other symptoms that can accompany fever?
Based on what condition is causing the fever, you may also experience other symptoms such as:
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Loss of appetite
Fever should be taken more seriously if it manifests in infants and children between the ages of 6 months to 5 years as even a slightly elevated temperature may indicate a serious infection.
How to measure temperature correctly?
There are several types of thermometers available to help measure temperature. These are oral, rectal, tympanic (ear) and forehead thermometers.
Doctors recommend the use of rectal thermometers for infants. Hence, if you are reporting your baby’s temperature to your doctor, do mention how you recorded it as well.
The following steps can help you measure your temperature more accurately.
- Wash your hands with soap and warm water
- Sanitise the thermometer by washing it in cold water, cleaning it with alcohol-based sanitiser and then rinsing it off before use.
- Do not eat or drink anything for a minimum of 5 minutes before taking your temperature
- Place the tip of the thermometer under your tongue
- Hold it in the same spot for approximately 40 seconds – 1 minute
- Once the readings have stabilised (or a beep indicating the final temperature is heard), you can remove the thermometer and read the temperature
- Wash the used thermometer once more before drying it and keeping it aside for future use
When should you get the fever checked by a doctor?
Usually, fevers should not immediately be a cause of alarm. Seek medical attention in the following cases.
Fevers are considered to be more serious in babies and young children. Take your child to the doctor if
- He/she is younger than 3 months of age and has a rectal temperature equal to or more than 100.4℉
- He/she is 3-6 months of age and has a rectal temperature up to 102℉. Behavioural changes such as increased irritability, lethargy or general discomfort should also be checked.
- He/she is 6-24 months of age and has a rectal temperature greater than 102℉ which lasts longer than 1 day, without additional symptoms such as cough, cold etc. If other symptoms also appear, reach out to your child’s paediatrician based on the severity of the symptoms.
You need not worry about your child having mild fever if he/she is responsive to you, ie: making eye contact, speaking etc. Consult your child’s paediatrician if:
- Your child is irritable, nauseous and/or non-responsive
- Your child has a severe headache, stomachache and/or any other symptom that is causing your child discomfort
- The fever has lasted more than 3 days
- Fever isn’t responding to recommended medications
- Is not able to make and maintain eye contact with you
Adults need to seek medical attention in the following cases:
- Body temperature is higher than 102℉
- A severe headache along with fever
- An unusual rash which worsens rapidly
- A stiff neck when you move your head in an up-down motion
- Feeling confused or delirious
- Persistent vomiting
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain
- Abdominal pain or difficulty in passing urine
- Convulsions or seizures
Why does fever occur?
Fever can be caused due to a number of reasons. Some of the most common reasons are
- Viral infection
- Bacterial infection
- Heat exhaustion
- Underlying conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis
- Malignant tumour
- Certain medications
- Certain vaccinations
In some cases, the cause of fever might not be evident. In such cases, the diagnosis is defined as “fever of unknown origin”.
How can fever be prevented?
As fever is a symptom, the focus is placed on minimising the risk of developing conditions that can cause fever. This includes reducing your exposure to infections and maintaining proper personal hygiene. The following steps can help reduce the risk of developing fever both in adults and children
- Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly
- Carry and use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
- Avoid touching your nose, mouth and eyes, especially with unsanitised hands
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
- Avoid sharing glasses, water bottles and other utensils without washing
The table below can help you identify fever associated with COVID-19. However, this is only for reference, if you are experiencing a fever with or without any other symptoms of COVID-19, please practice self-quarantine until recommended otherwise.
You can consult Dr Tushal Tayal, the best internal medicine specialist in Delhi NCR, at the CK Birla Hospital – Gurgaon.