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How Can You Get a Fever Down Without Drugs?

Centuries ago, people used a tepid bath to get a fever down, even if they had no medications. Now, doctors want to know about the underlying infection.
How Can You Get a Fever Down Without Drugs?
Mother reads thermometer of child with fever, be prepared

What do you do to get a fever down? Most people rely on medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, MotrinIB). While these drugs can reduce a temperature, they may not be necessary. Old-fashioned approaches might be all you need, as this reader reminds us.

How to Lower a Fever:

Q. You don’t need drugs to treat a fever. I used to put my kids in a bathtub with tepid to cool water to bring their temperatures down.

Like me, my children (now all grown) have never taken Tylenol or any other drugs, with the exception of the odd aspirin. We used honey and onion as the cure of the day for colds and sore throats. We all need to get back to nature now.

Hydrotherapy (Bath Water):

A. Long before there were fever-reducing drugs, doctors used hydrotherapy to bring down a fever. We found an article in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal of 1904. (Later this became The New England Journal of Medicine.)  It pointed out that the Greek physicians Hippocrates and Galen used cool water to treat a fever. Sponge baths were later prescribed to treat fever.

It isn’t necessarily helpful to lower an elevated temperature. Fever is part of the immune reaction to infection. Of course, if the immune system is overreacting or if the infection is a dangerous one, the patient will need medical attention. Pediatricians suggest that for a child, behavior is often a better guide than a thermometer. A child who is acting ill should be seen.

Adults, too, may benefit from an elevated temperature for an infection, but only up to a point. If they are seriously ill, they should be seen and treated.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Show 889: Fever and the Immune System
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What is the link between fever and the immune system? Learn why the traditional advice to encourage fever until it breaks might be on target.

Show 889: Fever and the Immune System
  • Pratt JM, "The present status of hydrotherapy and other forms of physical therapeutics." Boston Medical and Surgical Journal of 1904.
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