Feb. 28, 2011 at 12:30 AM ET
Parents have been told for generations that a high fever can be dangerous to kids. If you don’t get your child’s fever down, you’ll run the risk of frying brain cells, doctors have warned.
But now the American Academy of Pediatricians has turned that conventional wisdom on its head. A new report published this month in Pediatrics states that not only is there no need to bring down a fever in an otherwise healthy child, but there is a downside to treating a fever - it can prolong the illness that originally sparked the high temperatures.
The only reason to treat a fever is to make a child more comfortable, a co-author of the report said. “In a normal child there’s no set temperature at which you’d need to treat a fever,” said Dr. Janice Sullivan, a professor of pediatrics and pediatric critical care at the University of Louisville. “Our recommendation is primarily to treat discomfort associated with an illness rather than the fever itself. So, when children are uncomfortable or crying, then you should treat them with medication.”
Sullivan and her colleagues scrutinized studies on fevers and found that there was no evidence that a fever by itself could harm a child – unless the child was under the age of 3 months or had heart problems. In fact, the researchers determined that bringing fevers down could actually prolong illness. That’s because fevers are one of the body’s lines of defense against viruses, Sullivan explained.
“Studies done in children with chicken pox, for example, found that children whose fevers weren’t treated had about a day less that they were considered contagious compared to those who were treated,” she said.
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