Sunday, December 10, 2006
A blogger asks: What are the consequences to the healing process of using Tylenol (acetominophen or paracetamol for the European readers) to reduce a fever?
This is a good question. Fever causes concern in many people. Understanding its role may help reduce some anxiety. Normal body temperature median is 98.6 degrees Farenheit or 37 degrees Centigrade. Fever is defined as an elevated body temperature of 1 degree above the normal which may vary for different individuals. A significant fever is considered to be a body temperature (taken orally or by the ear) of 101.4F or 38C.
See here for how to take a temperature.
Fever is one of the ways that the body fights off an infection . It can also be caused by other factors such as medications or hormones. When an infection occurs, the hypothalamus in the brain sets the temperature set point a few degrees higher. The higher temperatures create a hostile environment for the invading bug. I am not aware of any date that shows if this process is hindered by taking Tylenol, but for a low fever most doctors may not recommend medication unless the patient complains of physical symptoms.
The fever can be seen as both a healing mechanism and an undesirable byproduct of the defense system. The higher temperature is not only hostile for the foreign agent, but it also makes the host, ie the patient, uncomfortable with symptoms such as chills and sweating. Occasionally this mechansim over estimates the problem and the temperature may go to levels that are also dangerous to the patient, and which may cause harm if not brought down appropriately. For example, 4 percent of children under the age of 5 may experience febrile seizures if the temperature goes above 103 degrees.
If a fever reaches 103 F or higher then a significant infection may be occuring. Other than seeking medical attention most doctors would suggest taking Tylenol or another fever reducing medication at this point. See here for how to treat a fever.
And for a fever of a different sort, see Miss Peggy Lee.
Photo: courtesy of rockymusic.org
References: please see specific links.