How To Break a Fever

Fluids and rest are key fever treatments.

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Breaking a fever may not be a quick and simple thing. When your body is fighting off an infection, it needs time to do so. But there are different things you can do to speed up the recovery process.

Learn more about fevers, including how to break one and when to seek medical and emergency care.

What Is a Fever?

A fever is an increase in normal body temperature. An average body temperature can differ with each person and vary depending on certain factors, but it is typically around 98.6 degrees.

A fever is not a disease on its own, but it's usually a symptom of an infection or illness your body is trying to fight off. Bacteria and viruses tend to thrive when the body is at its normal temperature. Thus, a fever can help fight infection by making it harder for those germs to survive. Fevers also activate your body's immune system.

If you or someone you're taking care of has a fever, learn how to treat their symptoms at home and how to determine when you should seek advice from a healthcare provider.

What Temperature Is Considered a Fever?

Adults are considered to have a fever when their temperature is 99 to 99.5 degrees and above. For children, the temperature varies depending on how the fever is measured:

  • If the temperature is measured rectally: 100.4 degrees and above
  • If the temperature is measured by mouth: 99.5 degrees and above
  • If the temperature is measured under their arm: 99 degrees and above

What Causes a Fever?

Your body temperature can fluctuate at any time. Certain factors—like the menstrual cycle, exercise, emotions, and humidity—can cause the body temperature to change. Infections, autoimmune diseases, or certain medications cause fevers.


Typically when a fever occurs, the body is fighting an infection. Any infection can cause a fever. This can include infections such as:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Appendicitis
  • Cellulitis
  • Meningitis
  • Sore throats
  • Sinus infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Viral gastroenteritis

Autoimmune Disease

If you have an autoimmune disease such as arthritis, ulcerative colitis, or vasculitis, this may cause your fever.

Similar to a fever, autoimmune diseases try to protect your body. The difference is that autoimmune diseases attack healthy cells by mistake.


If you are taking a certain medication and develop a fever, the medication may be the cause of your fever. This includes medications like:

  • Antibiotics
  • Antihistamines
  • Seizure medications

How To Break a Fever

If you find yourself with a fever or caring for someone who does, there are a few ways to break a fever.

Stay Hydrated

Dehydration is a major side effect of fevers. If you are dehydrated, you may experience:

  • Light-headedness
  • Thirst
  • Decreased urination
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth and/or skin

Dehydration in infants and young children can also include the following symptoms:

  • Crying without tears
  • Not having a wet diaper for three hours or more
  • Sunken eyes

The treatment for dehydration is to drink plenty of fluids. Sports drinks give your body the necessary electrolytes to feel hydrated again. If the dehydration is more severe, you may need intravenous fluids.

Of note, younger children should not consume a lot of fruit juice (including apple juice) or any sports drinks. Additionally, dietary recommendations for children can vary, so discuss your options with a healthcare provider.

Don't Eat if Food Bothers You

When your body is feverish due to an infection, you may also have an upset stomach or nausea, not to mention a lack of appetite. It can be hard to keep food down or simply be unappealing to eat, so don't force yourself to eat.

However, if you want to eat and can do so, opt for choices such as soup or gelatin, which can also help you stay hydrated.

Stay Comfortably Cool

The theory of "sweating out a fever" isn't exactly backed by evidence. So don't try to layer on blankets and keep warm, especially if you have chills. Instead, you'll probably feel better if you stay cool. Take a lukewarm shower or bath, or apply cool compresses to the neck, armpits, or forehead.

These methods won't treat the underlying cause of the fever—but they can help ease some discomfort. Avoid ice-cold baths since this can cause shivering, which will increase the body temperature, as with alcohol rubs.

Get Plenty of Rest

When you have a fever, your immune system works overtime to battle whatever infection or disease is making you ill. Getting enough rest is important to bouncing back from a fever.

According to research, sleep boosts immune system function. The study suggests that, in particular, sleep helps the body's infection-fighting T cells work more efficiently. Get plenty of sleep, and your body will do the rest.

Take a Fever Reducer

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) are the go-to medicines for reducing fever in children and adults. Aspirin is also an effective treatment in adults but should never be given to children or teenagers. Aspirin has been linked to a rare but serious condition called Reye's syndrome, which can affect the liver and brain in children and teenagers.

Another reminder for caregivers: Administer the correct dosage based on your child's age and weight. Be aware that acetaminophen may also be included in many over-the-counter medications to relieve cold and flu symptoms. You don't want to take too much since it can cause liver failure.

When To Consult a Healthcare Provider

Not all fevers are a reason to see a healthcare provider. There are some instances when you should seek medical care.

For Infants

For infants 12 weeks of age and younger, caregivers should see a healthcare provider any time the baby's fever is 100.4 degrees or higher.

Children under 12 months of age, especially infants 6 months or younger, are extremely vulnerable when they have a fever because they can become dehydrated quickly, Dr. Ferrer explained.

For Children

Caregivers should see a healthcare provider for any fever that rises above 104 degrees repeatedly in a child of any age. You should consult a healthcare provider if your child has a fever, along with any of the following symptoms:

  • Unusual drowsiness
  • Fussiness
  • Stiff neck
  • Severe headache
  • Sore throat
  • Ear pain
  • Unexplained rash
  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
  • Your child overall appears increasingly ill

A fever lasting more than 24 hours in a child younger than 2 years old—or three days in an older child—is another reason to call a healthcare provider.

Seizures are another concern when young children have fevers. Children (especially those who are 6 months to 5 years old) can experience febrile seizures, a type of seizure that typically occurs within the first 24 hours of a fever. Caregivers should call a healthcare provider when a child has a fever and a seizure.

For Adults

Adults should contact a healthcare provider when their fever stays at or rises above 103 degrees. If the fever keeps climbing with no sign of coming down, it is important to seek medical care. Additionally, adults should also seek medical care if they have:

  • Fevers that come and go for up to one week (or more)
  • A fever that lasts more than 48–72 hours
  • A new rash or bruise
  • Recently traveled to another country
  • A weakened immune system or a serious medical illness

Because many things can cause a fever—certain medications, heat, illness, cancer, autoimmune diseases—you should keep track of the symptoms accompanying your fever to get an accurate diagnosis.

Burning with urination, in addition to fever, for example, may be a sign of a urinary tract infection, while coughing and sore throat accompanying fevers could be the flu.

Other Considerations

A fever can be more serious for people who are immunocompromised or have other health conditions. See a healthcare provider if you have a fever and you have a weakened immune system due to:

  • Chronic steroid therapy
  • Bone marrow or organ transplant
  • Spleen removal
  • Cancer treatment

You should also see a healthcare provider if you have a fever and have a serious health condition such as:

  • Heart problems
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Diabetes
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Chronic lung problems

When To Seek Emergency Care

Head directly to the emergency room when a fever is accompanied by shortness of breath. Shortness of breath is an early sign of respiratory failure and should be taken seriously. Additional symptoms that warrant a trip to the emergency room include:

  • Can't walk
  • Won't wake up (or doesn't wake up easily)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe headache
  • Stiff neck
  • Confusion
  • Seizure

Other symptoms accompanying fever in children that warrant seeking emergency care include:

  • Crying and cannot be consoled or calmed
  • Blue lips, tongue, or nails
  • Refusal to move arms or legs

Also, fever-induced seizure in children that doesn't stop after five minutes should be treated as an emergency. Call 911 immediately if this is the child's first seizure or if the child becomes injured, has trouble breathing, or is not waking up after a seizure.

A Quick Review

Overall, fevers signify your body is fighting an infection or illness. If you or someone you care for has mild symptoms, rest and drink plenty of fluids. It's important to monitor symptoms and know when to seek care from a healthcare provider.

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