With flu season upon us, many families are suffering fevers and sickness at the same time. As a mother of three, I’ve felt how difficult it is to be a parent to a sick child while sick yourself. Most recently, all five of us were sick at once. I’d like to share some best practices I use in my family and offer my patients to keep comfortable and recover from a fever.
The truth about fever
First, let’s address some common myths about fever. Some of the misconceptions can be quite alarming—including the idea that high temperatures cause brain damage. In truth, fever is simply the body’s way to fight infection. Many bacterial and viruses can only do their work in a certain temperature range, so raising its temperature up helps our body get rid of these faster.
While we don’t like to see our kids suffering, they will likely suffer less time if we let them have a fever. It may even be best to encourage the temperature to be up while keeping kids comfortable in other ways.
When to see a doctor
Importantly, this advice is for non-emergency situations. If you’re able to stay hydrated and don’t have any other concerning symptoms, a fever for a couple of days is not abnormal. If your fever lasts more than a few day or you have headaches, neck stiffness or shortness of breath, you should seek medical attention. In the case of children and babies, watch for breathing, drinking and energy level. If you child is having difficulty breathing, that is an emergency and she needs to be given medical attention. If your child is struggling to eat and drink or is not making wet diapers every 6 hours, try one last time to get your baby to drink. If they do not have normal urination within 8 hours, bring to the nearest emergency room as your baby may need IV fluids due to dehydration. Though uncomfortable, your baby should have energy to interact and be soothed. If your baby is inconsolable or floppy like a rag doll, see a doctor. As always, we all have to read our worry level as parents. If your instincts say something is wrong and you are worried enough that you want your child seen, that is important and should not be ignored. As long as you feel comfortable watching for warning signs of something more serious, the best place for a child with a fever is at home in the arms of a caring provider. Love, fluids and time are usually all that is needed to get better.
Tips for helping your family through a fever:
Please note these tips are for when your child (or yourself) is not experiencing the symptoms discussed above (trouble breathing, dehydration, severe lethargy).
- Keep nice and cozy warm. At my worst with my flu, I was only warm enough when wearing a hat, socks, and sweater using a heating pad under the covers. If your kid can talk, ask when they feel warm enough. Do not try to cool them down, which can be very uncomfortable.
- Focus on consuming liquids. Try solid foods for yourself and your kids, but it likely won’t sound good until you are feeling better because of nausea that comes with flu. This lack of appetite is the foundation of the old saying “feed a cold, starve a fever.” Broth is good for older kids, and breastfeeding or formula is recommended for little ones. Oral rehydration solution, like Pedialyte, can be used as well. For any family member, consider rice made really watery and cooked longer than usual. In traditional Chinese medicine, this style of rice is called gongee and is thought to be healing. In the least, it is very easy to eat and digest.
- Expect a lot of nighttime parenting-and ask for help! This is hard when you are sick. Most recently, I got sick with the flu first. Then my 7 month old caught it. Then my 6 year old…then my partner (who can be the hardest to take care of) …and finally my 4 year old. Talk about lack of sleep. Remind yourself that you can only do what is humanly possible. Try to recruit help for your family and yourself, anything from help caring for the kids to meals that you won’t have to prepare yourself.
- Vitamins for everyone. Start zinc and vitamin C at the first sign of illness. If one person gets sick at our house, everyone gets to take their zinc “lemon suckers” lozenges. Recommended doses are 30mg zinc twice daily and 1000 mg vitamin C twice daily for adults, and 15mg zinc twice daily and 500 mg vitamin C twice daily for little people. You may also want to consider vitamins A and D—which some people believe is important for fighting off infection.
- Humidify. Most infections also come with a cough, sore throat or runny nose. The mucus membranes are likely to be painful and irritated and keeping them moist can help reduce pain. Good ways to keep that moisture up is to use a vaporizer, take long hot showers or to stay near a boiling pot of water on the stove.
- Stop the spreading in your family. Try to avoid spread in the house by covering coughs and good hand washing, though it is difficult to avoid transmission at home. Save your neighbors, too: Don’t go anywhere and take the fever out of the house.
Take the next step:
- Read an FAQ about flu vaccination and prevention.
- Learn about the five things parents should know about the flu.
Dr. Amanda Kaufman is a Family Medicine provider at our Domino’s Farms clinic. Her practice as a doctor for every member of families is strongly influenced by her experience as a parent. She is passionate about holistic approaches to health and wellness, including stress management, mind-body medicine and alternative therapies.
Founded in 1978, Family Medicine at the UMHS is a nationally recognized leader in patient care, education and research. Family Medicine provides a full range of services focused on the health of your entire family, including routine care, OBGYN care, pediatrics, sports medicine, and more. Learn more here.