You come home from school feeling awful with a sore throat. Your mom takes your
temperature with a thermometer. Within a few minutes, you hear the word fever.
But what are fevers, exactly? Why do kids get them? Why do parents and doctors
care so much about them? Let's find out.
What Causes a Fever?
Most human beings have a body temperature of around 98.6°F (37°C). Some
people will have a normal temperature that's a little higher; others will have a normal
temperature that's a little lower.
Most people's body temperatures even change a little bit during the course of the
day: It is usually a little lower in the morning and a little higher in the evening.
For most kids, their body temperature stays pretty much the same from day to day —
until germs enter the picture.
Remember that strep throat
that made you feel so rotten? Or another time when the
flu made you feel tired and achy? These kinds of infections are caused by germs
that make their way into your body, usually in the form of bacteria
(say: bak-TEER-ee-uh) or viruses.
When these germs march in and make you sick, your body's thermostat goes higher.
Instead of saying your body should be 98.6°F (37°C), your body's thermostat
might say that it should be 102°F (38.9°C).
Why does your body change to a new temperature? Researchers believe turning up
the heat is the body's way of fighting the germs and making your body a less comfortable
place for them.
A fever is also a good signal to you, your parents, and your doctor
that you are sick. Without a fever, it's much harder to tell if a person has an infection.
That's why grown-ups are concerned when you have a fever.
Fighting a Fever
For almost all kids, fevers aren't a big problem. When the cause of the fever is
treated or goes away on its own, your body temperature comes back down to normal and
you feel like your old self again. Most doctors agree that many kids with a fever
don't need to take any special medicine unless their fevers are making them uncomfortable.
If a kid has a higher fever and feels uncomfortable, the doctor might tell a parent
to give the child medicine. The two medicines
most often recommended are acetaminophen (say: uh-SEE-tuh-min-uh-fen)
or ibuprofen (say: eye-byoo-PRO-fen). The medicine blocks the chemicals
that tell the body to turn up the heat. Kids should never take aspirin
to treat a fever because it can cause a rare but serious illness.
If you have a fever, your mom or dad will probably ask you to drink more fluids
than usual. That's important because as your body heats up, it's easy for it to get
(say: dee-HI-dray-ted). This means there isn't enough water in your body. You have
a lot of choices when it comes to fluids — juice, water, sports drinks, soup,
flavored gelatin, and even ice pops.
Before you know it, your mom or dad will pull the thermometer out of your mouth
and say, "Your temperature is normal. No more fever!"