Frequently asked questions about fevers
Jun 29, 2021 | Urgent Care | Share:
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we think about fevers.
If you had a fever at the height of the pandemic, you needed to get a test for COVID-19 right away. But if you’ve been vaccinated or have antibodies for COVID-19, you no longer need to head straight to an urgent care clinic when you get a fever.
So do you know what to do when you get a fever? We’re getting back to basics with some frequently asked questions about fevers.
What is a fever?
Simply put, a fever is any elevation in your normal body temperature. We typically think of a “normal” temperature as 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but your normal body temperature may be as much as a degree higher or lower than that.
Your body temperature can also change throughout the day and is often a little higher in the afternoon than it is in the morning. There’s no need to be alarmed if your temperature isn’t exactly 98.6 degrees.
Clinically speaking, you have a fever when your temperature is above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
While temperature checks have become more common during the pandemic, you don’t need to check your temperature daily at home unless you think you have a fever. And if you have a fever, you probably feel like it; fever is often accompanied by chills, headache, and general feelings of weakness or fatigue. If you have an infection, you may also have other symptoms as well.
Why do we get fevers?
A fever is a perfectly normal physiological process and immune response. If you have a fever, it simply indicates that your body is fighting off some kind of foreign invader. Scientists are still working to understand why elevated temperatures are such an important part of our immune response.
Most of the fevers you get will be from a bacterial or viral infection. We often see fevers with upper respiratory infections such as flu, urinary tract infections, and even skin infections. When you get sick with any kind of bug, your illness is usually accompanied by a fever.
You can also get fevers as an allergic response to a new medication. These fevers are known as “drug fevers”. While many people who are allergic to a medication will develop hives, fever is another common response. If you have a fever due to a new medication, you usually don’t have any other symptoms and feel otherwise fine. These fevers usually resolve themselves when you stop taking the medication.
Many autoimmune diseases will also present with recurrent low-grade fevers. These fevers will come and go and are usually accompanied by fatigue and muscle aches. While a low-grade fever is no reason to panic, it’s worth seeing a doctor if you have a fever that seems to keep coming back.
How should I treat my fever?
There’s conflicting advice out there about what to do with a fever. Your mom may have told you to feed a fever, starve a fever, or just sweat that fever out. The good news is that most of the time, you just need to listen to your body when you get a fever.
If you’re hungry, it’s fine to eat, although you probably don’t want to eat anything too exciting when you have a fever. Do make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of clear fluids. It’s also fine to take fever-reducing medications such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen to help you feel more comfortable while you have a fever -- just make sure to follow dosing instructions.
Make sure to get plenty of rest when you have a fever. Remember that your immune system is activated when you have a fever; rest will help your body do what it needs to do to get better.
You should also remember that fever is like a warning light on your car. The fever itself isn’t the illness; rather, it’s an indicator that something else is going on. Pay attention to your fever, because that fever is telling you something.
If your fever lasts more than a day, it may be helpful to write down a few notes. Many infections (and therefore, fevers) will resolve on their own without any medical intervention. But if you do need to see a doctor, this information will be helpful.
Pay attention to the following details about your fever:
- Duration: How long does your fever last? Have you had it constantly for a few days, or does it seem to come and go?
- Height: While you don’t need fancy graphs or charts, it can be helpful to track how high your temperature goes. Most fevers will peak in the afternoon or evening. Is your fever getting progressively higher or lower?
- Symptoms: What other symptoms are you experiencing along with your fever? Pay attention to anything that might be going on in your body that’s not normal for you, including rashes, painful or achy joints, or respiratory symptoms.
- Recent exposures: Have you been around anyone else who’s been sick? Have you started any new medications recently?
When should I go to urgent care for fever?
Unless you have a known exposure to COVID-19, you don’t need to go to urgent care for a COVID test at the first sign of a fever. Remember, fevers are normal, and most will resolve on their own in a couple of days without any medical intervention. If you’re fully vaccinated for COVID-19 or have antibodies for COVID, your fever is almost certainly not due to a COVID infection.
However, there are times that you should go to an urgent care clinic when you have a fever. See a doctor if:
- Your fever persists for longer than a couple of days. You may have a bacterial infection that won’t resolve on its own.
- Your fever comes and goes for a week or more
- You have a high fever. A high fever is any temperature higher than 103 degrees Fahrenheit or 101 degrees if you have no other symptoms. You don’t need to go to the emergency room for your fever unless your temperature is greater than 105 degrees.
- Your fever doesn’t respond to fever-reducing medications. Your fever usually won’t go away completely with these medications, but they should reduce your fever temporarily.
There’s no need to panic when you get a fever. Most fevers are not due to COVID-19, and many illnesses with fever will resolve on their own without medical intervention. But if you do need to see a doctor for your fever, your urgent care doctor will work to determine the reason for your fever and treat the underlying cause.