When viruses or bacteria invade the body, immune cells and the antibodies they create battle the invaders, sometimes resulting in fever. Fever, a form of inflammation, is a useful infection-fighting tool, but miserable high fevers can sometimes do more harm than good. Enter fever reducers, a boon to anyone who’s ever been stricken by a tough infection . To maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of using these over-the-counter medications, use the following tips to pick the right fever reducer to meet your family’s needs.
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Tips for Choosing Fever Reducers
- Consider the cause. The influenza (flu) virus can cause fever. Infection is more likely during flu season, which runs October through April. If you suspect you have flu, consult your doctor right away. Prescription anti-flu medications work best when taken within one to two days of symptom onset.
- Scan ingredient lists. In order for a medication to reduce a fever, it needs to contain an analgesic. An analgesic is a substance that relieves pain and/or inflammation. Common over-the-counter analgesics include acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
- Save your stomach. Acetaminophen or enterically coated (“gentle”) aspirin are better options for people prone to the stomach irritation associated with aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Keep in mind that acetaminophen may not be right for people with liver disease or abnormal liver function. If in doubt, ask your doctor.
- Ask about age. Some analgesics are not safe for children and teens. Aspirin in particular should not be used in kids or teens because it can lead to a rare, life-threatening reaction called Reye’s (pronounced “rise”) syndrome. Acetaminophen often is a safer option for bringing mild fever down in kids.
- Dispense with the unnecessary. If your fever is not accompanied with other symptoms, such as a cough, runny nose, or chest congestion, treat only for a fever. A single ingredient, analgesic fever reducer is the best option in these cases.
- Line up labels. If you are treating for a fever plus cold or flu symptoms, make sure you don’t overdo it with any one ingredient. Read all labels carefully and compare ingredients to avoid accidentally doubling your intake of any one medication.
- Ask about age again. Children can tolerate higher fevers than adults. A prolonged fever of 103°F or higher is considered serious in children and requires an immediate trip or call to the doctor. For adults, consult the doctor for fevers of 102°F or higher.
- Wash it down with water. Staying hydrated is vital to at-home fever management. A fever can significantly increase your fluid needs, so have water, 100% juice, soup, or other fluids on hand to sip continuously throughout the day. Aim for at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water and other fluids per day.
- Dial the doctor. When in doubt, consult your healthcare provider. Red flags that a fever may signal something more serious include trouble breathing, bluish skin color, irritability, trouble waking up, confusion, disorientation, seizures, swollen neck or jaw glands, or feeling faint. Worsening of other chronic conditions such as diabetes, continued vomiting or abdominal pain, pain or pressure in the chest, and any high fever lasting more than three days (103°F or above for kids, 102°F or above for adults) are also causes of concern.
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