How to treat and reduce a fever

Fever is an abnormal rise in body temperature from the normal 98.6°F (in most people) to 100°F or above. (Normal taken rectally may be up to 1 degree higher.) Although its cause may or may not be serious, no fever should be ignored.

Measure fever with a thermometer. Rinse the thermometer in cool water; shake it with a snap of the wrist until the temperature column drops below 97°F Put the thermometer beneath the person’s tongue; have him close his lips but not his teeth. Leave it therefor at least 1 minute.

For rectal measurement use a rectal thermometer and lubricate it with petroleum jelly. If oral or rectal measurement is impractical, take a reading under the armpit for 3 minutes. Bear in mind that some variation is normal from as low as 97°F in the morning to as high as 100°F in late afternoon.


A low-grade fever (up to 101°F) rarely requires medical measures except in a very young or very old person, in whom any fever is potentially serious. Report any fever in an infant immediately to your doctor. In an older child, be guided more by looks and actions. A child can have a normal temperature and still be seriously ill.

A fever above 101 °F in anyone warrants discussion with your doctor. The usual medications are aspirin or acetaminophen, which lower the fever and alleviate discomfort. Aspirin in suppository form can be useful if there is vomiting. A tepid (not cold) sponge bath is comforting but a slow fever reducer: it takes 20 minutes to bring fever down a degree or so.

Chills are a natural accompaniment to fever. The body’s “thermostat” senses when its temperature is low compared to the new level. Adding blankets warms the patient to the higher level. The patient may also begin sweating, increasing heat loss. Replace lost moisture with clear liquids-broth, fruit juice, noncarbonated soft drinks, water.

A swift rise in temperature can cause a seizure in a child of 5 years or less. Frightening to parents, it usually results in no brain damage or other adverse side effects, but to be safe, consult your doctor.