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Parents, Let's Stop Treating Fevers With Tylenol

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Photograph by Twenty20

“Mom, Max has a fever now too — that’s four for four!"

All week, a nasty bug had plagued our house, and the last one of us, my Max, had finally bitten the dust. Everyone had a fever to some degree and I was crossing my fingers that my mom, the kid’s dear Mimi, would roll in for a little reprieve. With only two arms and one lap, there wasn’t enough of me to snuggle and soothe everyone, as they battled whatever infection brewed inside their little bodies.

“I’ll grab some juice and Tylenol and be over soon,” she said.

“Oh, no Tylenol,” I replied. “These fevers are fighting something. Unless the kids are really struggling, I’m going to let the fevers burn.”

I braced myself for her reply. I knew she didn’t want the kids to be uncomfortable — I didn’t either — but in my almost nine years of parenting, I’ve learned that fevers have a purpose and, when monitored, they don’t always have to be treated with medication. Plus, as with all medications, there are risk that might not be worth it.

As parents, we've become so conditioned to remove any and all discomfort from our children's lives that we often rush to treat things, like fevers, when they might actually be working to our child's long-term benefit.

Trust me, I know it’s hard to see those numbers climb. During this round of illness, one of my littles peaked at 104.1 — so brutal! For days, I logged 100+ temperatures for one child or another. Thermometer checks became such a regular occurrence that at 16 months, my youngest would see the ear thermometer come out and immediately turn his head. He knew Mama was checking his numbers!

It's time for parents to own this statement: Fevers are not something to be feared.

In fact, it’s a rare occasion when they absolutely must be treated with a fever-reducing medication like Tylenol. I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Steve Silvestro, a dad and pediatrician who practices in a suburb of Washington D.C., and when it comes to treating fevers he says, “I strongly believe that fevers should be treated far less often than many parents think.”

Burning up with fever? Take a dose of Tylenol … or not.

I agree. From my personal experience, I have found that letting a fever burn actually helps my child get well faster.

Dr. Silvestro recommends that parents first ask, “Do we need to treat the fever at all?” when their child feels warm or a thermometer reads higher than normal.

It sounds like a simple question, but it’s a good one. When an injury or illness arrives, it's our natural inclination to pull out all the stops and work on our child’s behalf to help them feel better. Have a scratch? Here’s a Band-Aid. Stuffy nose? Blow into this tissue. Have a tummy ache? Try this essential oil. Burning up with fever? Take a dose of Tylenol … or not.

“The fever is there to fight the infection. Plus, the height of the fever alone isn’t necessarily the thing to worry about, but rather what’s going on around the number and how long its been present,” says Dr. Silverstro. He recommends assessing your child’s demeanor, as well as their ability to eat and drink, rather than the thermometer's reading. In most cases, dehydration is the real concern.

Even the American Academy of Pediatrics holds a similar stance. According to their report titled "Fever and Antipyretic Use in Children", "the primary goal should be to help the child feel more comfortable, rather than to maintain a 'normal' temperature" and even state that "[p]arents should not wake up a sleeping child to administer a fever-reducer."

Instead, "parents should focus on the general well-being of the child, his/her activity, observing the child for signs of serious illness and maintaining appropriate fluid intake."

If you're stumped on how else to help your child feel more comfortable while they're burning up, these are some non-medication methods I used during our weeklong battle with this fever-inducing virus.

  • Lots of hydrating beverages: cold water, ice chips, juice and smoothies
  • Nutrient-dense meals; like homemade chicken noodle soup made with bone broth; hydrating fruits, like grapes and watermelon
  • Elderberry syrup and gummies — this supplement is antiviral and known to shorten the duration of illnesses
  • Lukewarm baths — not too hot, but not too cold
  • Cool washcloth on their forehead
  • Peppermint essential oil massages, just one drop diluted in a lotion or carrier oil and rubbed down their spine and on their feet
  • Lots of movies, snuggles and prayers

(Obviously, I am not a medical professional, so always ask your doctor if you're unsure of anything.)

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