- You can help break a fever by resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and cooling the skin with ice packs or a washcloth.
- Medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), can also help reduce fever symptoms.
- Most fevers will resolve themselves within a week, and following these strategies can help you get through it.
- This story is part of Insider’s guide to Fever.
A fever, which is generally considered a temperature above 100.4Â° F, is most commonly caused by infection, and is an effective response to fighting off viruses like the flu. It’s often associated with symptoms like chills, muscle aches, and weakness.
Most fevers will go away on their own in a few days and are not considered dangerous, but treating a fever with home remedies, and sometimes medication, can keep you more comfortable. Here’s what you need to know.
How to break a fever
Fevers generally last between one and seven days, says Georgine Nanos, MD. “Most fevers, especially those caused by viruses, are usually self-limited, meaning they will resolve on their own,” she says.
Despite the fact that they’re usually not dangerous, fevers can be uncomfortable, especially if they go above 101Â° F. Fevers that are especially high (above 104Â° F) or that are uncomfortable should be treated, says Joshua Mansour, MD. Here’s how:
- Drinking plenty of fluids. Fever can cause dehydration, so getting lots of fluids â€” particularly water â€” is important for both comfort and treatment. Some research has found that hot drinks provide more relief from symptoms like chills and runny nose than cold drinks.
- Cool the skin by using ice packs or a cool washcloth to the forehead or wrists. Avoid a cold bath, since that could cause you to shiver, which will raise your temperature more. These steps can improve comfort, although they won’t address the root cause of the fever.
- Rest. Staying in bed as much as possible, and sleeping whenever you’re drowsy, allows your body to fight the underlying infection. Dress in light clothes and blankets, even if you’re feeling chilled.
When to take medication for a fever
Research is mixed about whether it is best to treat fevers or allow them to run their course. Fevers can be protective during an infection, though if there is discomfort, you can reduce symptoms with antipyretics â€” medications that suppress fever.
The Mayo Clinic suggests treating babies between six months and two years old when their fever reaches 102Â° F (for babies under six months with a fever, call the doctor). Anyone older than two should use medication if their fever is higher than 102Â° F and they are experiencing discomfort.
“If you’re uncomfortable from the symptoms of a fever then it would be appropriate to take fever-reducing medications,” Nanos says. “Reducing fever with medication also reduces associated symptoms of headache, chills, fatigue, muscle pains, and joint pains.”
- Ibuprofen (Advil, Mortrin, and others):Ibuprofen can be used for most people older than six months of age, following dosing guidelines. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, or kidney disease, ask your doctor before using ibuprofen.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol and others): Acetaminophen can be used in infants and people of all ages, following the appropriate dosing guidelines. If you have liver disease, ask your doctor before using this medication.
In addition, some studies have found that combined and alternating doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen to be more effective at reducing fever in children. However, it’s important not to give too much medication, so seeking medical advice from your provider is important before trying this.
“The dosage of the medications differ between adults and children and is important to pay close attention,” Mansour says. “It is important to avoid taking too much or for a very prolonged time.”
Treating the underlying cause of the fever with medication is sometimes important. Bacterial infections might need to be treated with antibiotics. Some viral infections, including the flu, can be treated with antiviral medications like Tamiflu.
“Treatment of the underlying cause will also reduce a fever, but this can take time,” Mansour says. For more information about treating the underlying cause of a fever, read our article about the most common causes of a fever.
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- Yes, the flu is contagious. Here’s when you’re most likely to spread the virus
- How long the flu should last and when you should see a doctor
- What you should eat and drink to get over the flu, according to doctors