Written by Meghan Rhodes MCPP MAPA
Let's talk about healthy fevers.
Now you might be a bit confused when I say 'healthy' fevers because most people are used to thinking of them as something that's bad or that they need to be afraid of, which is why there are a lot of drugs (and advertising and pervading societal messaging) that encourage stopping a fever. But this is the exact opposite of what you want to do to build and support a robust immune system.
So what is a fever?
When our immune systems are tackling an infection in the body, they're exerting a lot of energy. They are giving off heat. It's like climbing a mountain. As you climb, you exert more and more energy and get hotter and hotter until you finally reach the peak and then the climb down is a bit easier and more relaxed.
The same goes for our bodies. Our immune system exerts more and more energy, getting hotter and hotter, until it has the upper hand on the infection. The fever peaks, you break out in a sweat (which serves to cool the body), and then you're on the way back down to normal temperature.
This is a really important process to allow our bodies to go through, otherwise one of two things happen -
Our immune system never gets the opportunity to build its infection fighting muscles, and so struggles to cope well when we get a cold or virus or
The immune system tries to get into action, but keeps getting suppressed, so it stops trying. (Imagine how frustrating it would be if every time you tried to go for a run on the treadmill, someone came along and hit that big red emergency stop button. Every. Single. Time. Eventually, you'd give up trying to go for a run at all!)
This is why it's critical to support a healthy fever, especially in children when their immune systems are very much in development, rather than put a stop to it unless it's a genuine emergency.
How can I support a fever?
Your aim is to facilitate the immune system in completing the task at hand naturally.
Whilst generating a fever, the body is both busy and hot, so the two key things to do are allow lots of rest and keep hydrated. You're looking to enable the body to direct all its energy towards the immune system's efforts in dealing with the infection, so it won't want or need to do much else, including eat, as digestion takes a good amount of the body's energy reserves.
So get cosy in bed or on the sofa, with or without a box set at the ready. Have plenty of blankets and warm socks to hand so whoever is ill can be comfortable. Draw the curtains and don't resist sleep. It's often when waking from a nap that the fever will naturally break.
All that warmth will be using up the body's fluid reserves, so have water or Healthy Fever Tea nearby and encourage slow, gentle sips throughout the day. Don't be surprised if there's little to no appetite. If reserves are running low, have a cup of bone broth or some plain organic toast or rice. A simple and natural electrolyte drink can be made by adding a pinch of sea salt, a drizzle of honey, and a squeeze of lemon to some water and mixing well - no chemical-filled products required!
Rest and wait for that - waking in a cold sweat - moment when the immune system has gotten the upper hand on the infection, the fever has peaked and the body releases sweat to cool you down. From this point, rest and have a small bit of food if an appetite has re-emerged. You're on the up, but don't rush it!
What about infants?
If it's your little one who has the fever, they're likely to just want lots of cuddles and comforting. Infants especially may just want to be in a simple baby grow and nappy, held on your chest, with or without a blanket draped over the two of you. If you're breastfeeding, your milk will automatically produce both antibodies to the infection your baby has in real time, as well as adjust the nutrient to water ratio to keep them hydrated (the same as in summer on a hot day), so there's nothing specific you need to do besides watch for your baby's feeding cues. Be aware, however, they may not want much feeding, so don't stress about forcing it.
If you feel like your baby needs a bit of support stoking that healthy fever, you can prepare a mug or pot of Healthy Fever Tea and drink it warm to hot. The herbs will flow through your milk, helping them build that productive fever. Alternatively, if you little one is getting very hot and you feel they need a little bit of respite before that fever can crack on doing its job, you can drink the same tea cool, as well as gently pat their skin in a washcloth dipped in cool Healthy Fever Tea. This will help cool the fever temporarily before it's ready to build again and complete its mission.
When my little one has a fever, my husband and I take turns holding her lightly clothed with a blanket over the two of us. We take the time to tune into her body, feel how her heat changes, encourage her to sip a bit of water now and then when she'll take come, and pay attention to any other queues. But otherwise, we just ensure we have snacks and water for ourselves to hand and take the opportunity to have a bit of time to relax, ourselves. We skip baths until her fever has broken (no one wants to be plonked in a bath when they're feverish!), we don't bother with normal meals. We just listen to her and our intuition.
If she's in the earlier stages of a cold, as she's over 6 months old, she may ask us for some Healthy Fever Tincture Blend, which contains similar herbs to Healthy Fever Tea, just in a more convenient tincture in a dropper bottle, to encourage her body to stoke a fever if necessary. But when she's burning up and in the thick of it, we just hold her as she moves through it.
When it comes to bedtime, her body may be so busy addressing the infection, she's happy to just be put down and have a heavy sleep. We just feel her forehead and the back of her neck from time to time to gauge how hot she is and adjust blankets/clothing/room temperature accordingly. Other times, she may be very hot and bothered (quite literally), so she may wake more often in the night. It's never enjoyable to have disturbed sleep, but it's temporary, and sometimes we just have to take turns getting up and rocking her a bit before she goes to sleep again. It also means we're able to check in with her body in the night when we're holding her, and she's able to get that reassurance that she's safe and that everything will be ok, even if she's feeling a bit uncomfortable and generally rubbish. She feels and sees in our calm confidence that there's nothing to be upset about - that this, too, shall pass.
How hot is too hot?
There are varying perspectives on temperature. My personal point of view, as a herbalist, mother and someone who has had her fair share of very high fevers in her life, is go with your gut. This is why tuning into yourself or your child when a fever is at work is crucial. It gives you confidence in trusting your intuition. You may feel something is off, even if the thermometer is reading under 38.8 C/102 F, or you may feel comfortable even if a fever is hovering around 40 C/104 F.
Remember, your inner voice is there to keep you connected to your body and keep you and your family safe. Constantly checking a number on a thermometer screen disconnects you from that process, but if you need to do so as you build your skills in supporting a healthy fever, then don't worry about it.
This is why I always say work within your current comfort zone. You may be used to giving Calpol frequently and at the first sign of any increased temperature, so it may take you longer to ease into what level you're ready to trust your gut with until you feel you need to hit the breaks. It's your journey and you have to do what you feel is safe each step of the way.
On a similar note, if you or your family member, especially an infant, have a tendency towards febrile convulsions (not everyone does and this is not a given just because someone has a high fever), I recommend taking a first aid course or using another method from a reliable source to learn the most supportive techniques for positioning, clothing and observation to help your loved one through this, as well as to be aware of the signs you may need to call for outside help. Do be aware, however, not many of these providers are qualified in or aware of natural ways to support health, so you may hear more encouragement to give Calpol, but remember, you are the one who is ultimately in control of what you do and do not choose to incorporate into your family's health support system.
If you or a family member are getting hotter and hotter, then washing the body with a cool wet washcloth soaked in water or Healthy Fever Tea can help bring things down. Try to keep the aim in your head to give the body a little break before resuming its hike to the top of the mountain, rather than slamming the emergency button on the treadmill. Keep in mind the longer someone is very hot, the more important hydration is, so small, regular sips of water or cool Healthy Fever Tea are key to calmly encourage.
What if I have a fever, but I don't have time for one?
I'm sorry to say something you probably already know - if you don't have time for a fever, that's probably part of why your body was susceptible to an infection taking hold in the first place. We all know the drill - crazy hectic life, lots of toing and froing, never ending stressful to do lists and demands from all directions. You don't get the time to take care of yourself, to rest properly and each nourishing foods, and now you're sick at the most inconvenient moment.
This is your body taking matters into its own hands and forcing you to rest. I know, it's frustrating. I've been there plenty of times, myself.
The best option is to succumb to the rest your body is demanding of you. Follow the instructions above. Get help with your children if you have them.
I also completely appreciate this isn't always possible. So what do I do when I don't get to take a sick day?
I take things as slowly as I can and support my body as best I can until I reach a time when I can rest, like the weekend, for example.
If you catch an infection at the first signs, you can take some Healthy Fever Tincture Blend - a tincture blend of the Healthy Fever Tea herbs, plus a few more, in a dropper bottle - or take some elderberry syrup if you have some to hand. If you really need to nip something before it takes hold, you can take up to 5ml hourly. Make a simple, nourishing dinner like a broth-based soup, and get to bed as early as possible. Try to get the best night's sleep you can for a few days. That extra immune system support, shot of nourishing foods and much needed sleep may just keep you from going over the edge.
If it's too late, but you have to push through for another day or so, make a big cafetiere of Healthy Fever Tea and sip frequently throughout the day. Have up to a full pipette of Healthy Fever Tincture Blend hourly. This will help get the immune system ready for a solid effort overnight. Get to sleep as early as possible and you may have created the conditions for your body to push through and the fever to break by morning. If not, repeat the next day until you can get to a stopping point to rest properly and let your body dedicate its energy to what it needs to do. It's not ideal, but sometimes needs must, and it's certainly a more health-supporting approach than using over the counter drugs to put your body's messages and immune system's efforts on mute.
Is that a lot of information? Yes. But it's also a lot of options - options for multiple scenarios in which a fever may come knocking at your door, options that mean you always have a choice and don't have to resort to the pervading refrains of suppressing your immune system with ibuprofen or your little one's with Calpol. And together, information + options = confidence. Confidence in your understanding of the body's processes and messages, confidence in your ability to support them, and confidence in the efficacy of herbal remedies in this common household health scenario.