Most of the illnesses which give you a temperature are caused by viruses. Although they can make you feel unwell, they do not usually need much in the way of special treatment or medicines from your doctor - Meningitis being a notable exception. The common illness cause by a virus is the common cold. Illnesses such as flu are also caused by viruses - in this instance the influenza virus. Fever is part of many other illnesses for which your doctor may decide to give you medicine. Fever needs to be handled slightly differently for adults and children.
When does fever occur?
A high temperature can result from many illnesses. It is a symptom of a number of common infections, including tonsillitis, sinusitis, chest and kidney infections.
Fever is usually preceded by muscle aches, headaches and a general feeling of tiredness. If you take your temperature when you have these symptoms it is likely to be higher than normal (though not always).
Normal body temperature is 98.4 0 F and 37.0 0 C.
After a day or so, other symptoms of the primary illness may develop - such as a cough, a sore throat or earache. You may become more tired and your temperature may rise further.
What to do if you child has a fever?
During a fever, children often develop higher temperatures than adults because they cannot sweat efficiently. It is very important to keep children cool. If they are kept cool their illness will be less severe and they will recover more quickly. The following is useful advice.
• Keep the room cool, turn off the central heating and remove clothing and bedclothes. Cover the child with a single sheet Children do not sweat efficiently as adults, so it is important to bathe their bodies with a flannel or sponge soaked in warm water. As the water evaporates it acts like artificial sweat, cooling them down.
• Providing the child has not vomited, encourage the child to drink. Do not feed solids if the child does not appear to be hungry. If the child is vomiting, then do not give fluids - and consult your doctor for further advice.
• Special children’s analgesics such as ibuprofen suspension (Nurofen for Children Sugar Free) and paracetamol suspension (Calpol) can reduce temperature. Some of these, for example Nurofen for Children Sugar Free, can work for up to 8 hours to reduce temperature. Consult manufacturer’s information for the dose appropriate for your child.
• If your child appears to be very unwell or if the temperature persists, then consult your doctor.
Does my child have meningitis?
Parents are often concerned that a feverish child has meningitis. Meningitis is an infection of the coverings of the brain (which are called meninges). It is often caused by viruses but sometimes by bacteria.
Children with Meningitis often have a temperature and may complain of a variety of symptoms like sore throat and headache. They are usually unwell and prefer to lie still in bed rather than to be up and about. They may complain of neck pain which may be so severe that they cannot bend to kiss their knees.
One species of bacteria (the meningococcus) causes a form of Meningitis which can be more serious than the others. Meningococcal Meningitis sometimes progresses to infect the blood stream (an illness we call septicaemia). Children with septicaemia are very unwell and rapidly develop a purplish, bruising rash which does not bleach or disappear when pressed with a glass.
Septicaemia develops very quickly and can cause death, so any child with such a rash should be taken directly to a doctor or casualty department.
Adults: what to do when you have a temperature
• Stay at home in bed - rest will enable you to recover more quickly, and isolation from others will avoid you passing the illness on.
• Keep cool, with plenty of ventilation, wear light clothing. Cover yourself with a sheet (not a duvet) - this will help limit the fever Drink plenty of fluids. You will be sweating more because of the fever and you will need to replace the lost fluid.
• Avoid alcohol as this can cause further dehydration
• Take specific medicine on advice from your pharmacist (preparations may contain ibuprofen or paracetamol). Never take paracetamol if you are allergic to it, however, always consult the pharmacist for a suitable alternative.
• Eat little and often. If you don’t feel like eating, sugary drinks are a good alternative. Chocolate and sweets are good sources of the energy your body will need to fight the infection
• If the fever persists for more than three or four days, consult your doctor.
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