Hot, flushed skin. Chills. Sweats. There’s no doubt that a fever can make you miserable. But does a fever require medical treatment? Not always. A fever is a natural response to infection. When invaded by germs, the body raises its temperature in an attempt to kill the germs. If the affected person can eat, drink and rest relatively comfortably, it’s best to let the fever run its course. If the fever is interfering with sleep or making it difficult to eat, drink or relax, treating the fever may provide relief. For those times when it’s unbearable, it’s good to know about fever treatment, including effective fever remedies and when to consult your doctor. Home Remedies for Fever Many traditional home remedies for fever are not particularly helpful. A sponge bath or soak in a tub full of cool water may lower the body temperature a few degrees but can also be extremely unpleasant. Applying cold or ice packs to the skin is counterproductive; the cold temperatures can trigger shivering, which will raise, not lower, the body’s temperature. One persistent folk remedy for fever—applying rubbing alcohol to the skin—can cause poisoning, as alcohol can be absorbed through the skin. Focus on hydration instead. Increased temperatures cause the body to lose fluids more quickly than usual, and unless these fluids are replaced, dehydration can occur. Dehydration can trigger headaches and sluggishness, which can make a person feel worse. Frequent sips of water and other fluids can stave off dehydration and help people with fevers feel better. Caffeine increases urination, which can contribute to dehydration, so stick to herbal or non-caffeinated teas, ice pops, soups and flavored gelatin. Dress in layers and add or remove layers and blankets to maintain comfort. If you’re chilled, cover up. When you start sweating, remove a layer. Rest will help your body fight infection, so take it easy. People who have fevers should stay home from daycare, school or work until they have been fever-free (without the aid of medication) for at least 24 hours. Over-the-Counter Medication for Fever When home remedies aren’t sufficient to provide comfort, you can use over-the-counter medicine to bring down fever. Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin are all antipyretics, or fever-reducing medications. Which medicine to use depends on personal preference and the age of the sick person. Acetaminophen (Tylenol). Acetaminophen is the best choice for children between 6 weeks and 6 months of age. (If your child is younger than 6 weeks, contact a physician.) Dosage is based on the child’s weight. Your healthcare provider or pharmacist can help you figure out the proper dose for your child. You can use acetaminophen to treat fever in children, teenagers and adults. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Ibuprofen should not be given to children younger than 6 months of age. It is a good choice for children and adults. Aspirin. Never give aspirin to a child or teenager, as aspirin may contribute to the development of Rye Syndrome, a potentially fatal disease. Most adults can safely use aspirin to treat fever. If you have stomach problems or take blood thinning medication, aspirin may not be your best choice, as it can cause stomach upset and thins the blood. Some people alternate doses of different medications—usually, acetaminophen and ibuprofen—to keep a fever under control. You may be able to safely alternate medications, but there’s no scientific evidence to support this approach to fever treatment. Remember: fever is a healthy response to infection, and you don’t need to bring the temperature back down to normal. When to call the doctor Call your healthcare provider if: Your child is younger than 3 months and has a fever Your child has a fever and is listless or unusually irritable You (or a loved one) has a fever greater than 103°F (39.4°C) The fever lasts longer than three days Seek immediate emergency medical attention if you notice any of these symptoms, some of which signal a worsening or more serious infection: Convulsions or seizures Severe headache Confusion Neck stiffness Difficulty breathing Chest pain Skin rash Light sensitivity Persistent vomiting Knowing how to treat a fever will help you navigate your next bout of sickness with confidence.