No one likes to get sick. The feeling of health, which we often take for granted, is something that we try to protect in various ways. Furthermore, this desire for health isn’t just felt by human beings; every living creature wants to enjoy an existence that is free from ailments and disorders, but that simply isn’t realistic.
However, illness eventually comes to everyone, and there is one rather common ailment that afflicts people quite easily; fever. Since fevers are relatively common, people tend to take common medicines to fight them off, but is that actually a good idea?
What is a Fever?
Simply put, a fever is a condition when the body temperature increases for a particular reason. In medical terms, a fever is called pyrexia. The normal temperature for a human body is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius (this is just the average value of body temperature). Body temperature can fluctuate throughout the day, depending on your age, level of activity, temperature of your surroundings, and various other factors, but 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is generally considered the “norm”. When the temperature of the body crosses this limit for an extended period of time, we say that someone has a fever.
How Does a Fever Work?
Fever is actually a response of the immune system in our body. When a ‘bad’ bacterium enters your body, your immune system begins to produce pyrogens. These pyrogens travel through the bloodstream to reach the hypothalamus (part of the brain). The hypothalamus acts as a thermostat for the body, so the arrival of those pyrogens causes the body temperature to rise above the normal range. Voila! You have a fever!
Studies have shown that increased body temperature ensures that the growth of certain bacteria is contained, and in some cases, the fever even helps to kill the bacteria that have infected your body.
What Does Medicine Do Against a Fever?
When you fall ill with a fever, many people turn to common medicines to alleviate the intensity of the fever. However, what do these medicines do exactly?
A fever-reducing medicine (also called an anti-pyretic) acts as an inhibitor of the enzyme cyclooxygenase and reduces the level of prostaglandin E2 in the hypothalamus; in simpler terms, the medicine takes control and blocks the signals that tell hypothalamus to raise body temperature. As a result, your body temperature drops down to normal levels.
A Word of Caution
A fever caused by infection does not last for long, and will usually be eliminated from the body in a few days. Therefore, you may actually be doing some good for your body by not taking any medication to combat fevers. However, a word of caution is required in that regard. Not all fevers are as innocuous as common fevers induced by the brain to fight bacterial infections. If your body temperature rises above 39 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit), then you should seek medical attention immediately. This type of extreme fever can actually result in brain damage if left untreated.
There are many wonderful ways in which your body takes care of itself; developing a fever is one of them. For that reason, next time you’re bed-ridden due to a mild fever, thank your immune system for being constantly vigilant throughout your life – and maybe just wait for the fever to burn itself out, rather than popping any anti-pyretics pills!
- Harvard University
- Everest College, Kathmandu at Thapathali
- Rush University Medical Center
- University of Maryland Medical Center
- The University of Utah