You have a fever. That’s bad…right? You want to fight it with drugs as soon as possible? Isn’t that what mom did? Aren’t we supposed to take two aspirin and check it in the morning?
Another question to ask is, “what if this fever is healing me and shortening my infection?”
Scientists are rethinking our response to short spikes in our temperature.
It may turn out that short-term inflammation and fever is how our bodies maximize healing, and interfering with a healthy fever might slow down healing.
The best course of action might be to let the fever ride, and science is starting to agree with that assessment.
As far back as 500 BC, medicine has been discussing fever as the symptom of “disease.” In short it is a symptom that something is wrong with the body.
Before anyone knew what a germ or infection was, the healers of yesterday recognized that elevated body temperature was a sign that the body was under attack.
While we have been fighting fevers with anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin or Tylenol, we did it without really having any proof that it was the right thing to do.
The assumption was fevers make us uncomfortable, and reducing it made us feel better. But we never looked at the positive effects of feeling bad for a short time.
The only known good reason to stop a high fever is to prevent brain injury.
High fevers from septic shock can be life-threatening and medical personnel will often use ice to quickly cool the patient, but do you really want to fight a “normal” fever?
Serious reviews of our view of increased temperature have been going on for over a decade and the evidence is coming in more and more that suppressing the immune response is bad for our overall health and only prolongs infection.
In other words, short-term (non-chronic) inflammation is good.
A 2015 report in the New England Journal of Medicine did a split test of people who were in intensive care with suspected infections.
Both groups of patients were carefully monitored but half received the standard acetaminophen and cooling blankets, while half were allowed to have their natural fever.
Those who rode out the discomfort, were out of the hospital much faster. On average, suffering through the fever got the patients out of the hospital five days faster.
As far as we can tell, we have been having fevers for millions of years. It seems to be the way the body rushes healing cells to the right place and speeds healing.
When fevers are good, they kill infection and mop up damaged cells.
But when it’s bad, inflammation ignites a long list of disorders: arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, blindness, cancer, diabetes and, quite possibly, autism and mental illness.
And this is the challenge. Chronic inflammation damages our bodies’ systems and wears us down.
But in the short-term, inflammation is your body’s best friend.
Fever is a signal that white blood cells are rushing to an infected area. Insulin and glucose spike when this happens too. That is why long-term inflammation results in what is known as metabolic syndrome which causes weight gain, fatty liver and a host of other problems.
This is the challenge, to understand when good inflammation turns bad. But in the short-term, quit thinking you need to mask your symptoms. A little fever is a signal your body is healing itself.
If your body is battling a harmful bacteria, it needs a little fever to win, so you might want to let it actually win by not taking something that might make you feel a little better short-term but instead may be making the problem last longer.