How to Fight High Fevers or Hyperpyrexia in Children
Hyperpyrexia - The Highest Fevers
Hyperpyrexia is an extreme in body temperature. Some authorities draw the line at > 40.0° C (104° F); others say 41.1 °C (105.98° F) or higher. Still others define hyperpyrexia as at least 41.5 °C or 106.7 °F. A consensus seems to be that 108° F is fatal, although there have been a few isolated survivals at the levels of 109 and 112 in the literature.
My experience at the age of 6 years included a fever of 106.5 ° F and a number of home remedies that did not work. However, some home remedies can indeed lower fevers in children and adults before they reach imminently destructive levels.
Many conditions can lead to hyperpyrexia, but infections are a notable cause. Some of these infections include roseola (akin to measles and often termed “Fifth Disease”, rubeola/rubella (measles), and virus infections of the gastrointestinal tract. In my own case, immunity to measles was not to be had by with either infection and cure or inoculation, because I experienced measles a total of seven times in childhood and adult years. I may not yet be fully immune. One case of measles was a step toward my high fever.
Thirty Days of Fever
A full 30 days of fever included consistent escalation of body temperature over three weeks, followed by four days of hospitalization and a few more days at home in bed. It is an experience that I will never forget.
I was not permitted to get out of bed during the first three weeks, but was not told why. I did not feel particularly hot, but I experienced a headache of growing intensity and my eyes became so extremely dry that it hurt to move them any degree whatsoever. This was likely exacerbated by dehydration. I was given Vick’s salve to eat and extremely strong black tea, which came up straightaway after I drank it - it was so strong that it puckered my gums.
Note: Vick’s salve and strong black tea do not help a fever.
This fever began after I had had a round of the measles and recovered. At the beginning of the fever, I was administered a heavy whiskey-and-melted-cough-drop based farmer’s cough syrup that caused a physical shudder with its strength. The fever did not lower and the next evening I was given over-the-counter codeine cough syrup, even though I had no cough or cold (these were the days before the 1970s codeine shortage that caused a prescription to be required). The rationale for both cough syrups was that if a child is becoming ill, one gives him the strongest drug you have in the house, no matter what it is for. In the 1920s, children were lined up in some Ohio farmhouses and given a weekly dose of Castor oil, whiskey, and whatever else the head of household felt to be medicine.
I am allergic to codeine and all narcotics. I took three or four steps after being forced to consume it, passed out in a hallway and awoke some time later, face down in the same spot, screaming.
Note: codeine with beverage alcohol and melted cough drops does not cure a fever, especially when a patient is allergic to them.
Infections and Hyperpyrexia
Several studies of hyperpyrexia have been conducted and the following is a particularly interesting one.
J. S. Surpure, MD, FAAP. Hyperpyrexia (temperature > 40 C) in children. Annals of Emergency Medicine Volume 8, Issue 4, Pages 130-133 (April 1979).
Dr. Surpure examined medical charts for 516 children taken to the Oklahoma Children's Memorial Hospital ER or Walk-In Clinic because they had a body temperature of 104° F or higher.
High temperatures can be very dangerous in children and indicate any of a number of conditions. The charts indicated that these high fevers were linked to common illnesses: 1) upper respiratory infections, 2) middle ear infections, 3) pneumonia, 4) acute gastroenteritis, 5) urinary tract infections, and others.
Only 22 (just 4% of the 516) were admitted to the hospital. There was one death, because parents somehow were delayed in seeking medical attention for their child.
Note: This suggests to me that if common illnesses are attended properly and promptly, then hyperpyrexia and death may be avoided.
Seizures in 24 of the children were not related to high fever at all, but rather to particular use and compliance with instructions for anticonvulsant drugs used for other conditions. (Note: an urban legend held that fevers often cause convulsions.) None of the children had seizures because of high fever. The study found that treatment of the underlying causes should be the top priority, but that follow-up is appropriate usually on an outpatient basis, without hospitalization or antibiotics.
Recommendations for Home Treatment
Many hospital, university, and clinic sources suggest that in hyperpyrexia and fevers near this extreme to immediate cool down to under 102° F to prevent death. Hospitals use cooling blankets. Hyperpyrexia is especially deadly, because it causes the human body's temperature regulation system to set the temperature above normal and then generate enough heat to meet that level -- The temperature must lowered to prevent death. When you and/or your child experiences as fever:
Drink lots of fluids in order to prevent dehydration. Fluids suggested are water, juices, or clear broths. Milk and coffee are not so good and caffeine causes dehydration. Pedialyte or Pedialyte ice-pops are better for children under one year old.
Note: My problem was that no fluids or food would stay down.
Remain inactive and rest. Activity can raise body temperature and the body heals best when still or asleep. However, it is true that some people can exercise and find that a LOW fever of only 1 or 2 degrees is eliminated at the end of the session. Be careful not to overheat in any exercise session to stay hydrated while working out. Know your body and how it reacts and consult with your healthcare professional.
Remain as cool as possible. Wear or dress your child in lightweight or summer clothing, keep the bedroom cool, and sleep only with a sheet or light blanket covering. Several layers of heavy blankets will not help your child, but will cause overheating. A child in high fever and shivering is likely going into shock and you need medical help. See Emergency Shock Instructions from NIH MedLinePlus.
Note: I was under heavy blankets and in thick, heavy pajamas; sweating and getting sicker.
Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen if your doctor agrees. Use OTC according to instructions or as recommended by your health are practitioner. Do not exceed daily dosages; if an OTC is not working, then you need something else, likely help from a doctor. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen used in excess can cause kidney damage or death by overdose. For temperatures below 102° F,do not administer OTC drugs at all, unless your healthcare practitioner tells you to do so.
Use a lukewarm water soak, especially for high temperatures. Soak 5 to 10 minutes or use a sponge bath.
Do not use alcohol. Stop the bath if shivering occurs, because shivering raises body temperature.
Note: I was placed into a bathtub of cold water into which several ice trays of ice were dumped, along with a bottle of rubbing alcohol, to lower the temperature. My fever did not reduce, but climbed to 106.5°F, at which point the doctor was called. I was sent to the hospital immediately from his office. On the first two days, I was dizzy and could hardly walk, but felt much better on the third day. The treatment was IV saline, penicillin, light foods and beverages, and rest in a smoke-free atmosphere.
The condition I suffered might have been meningitis, but was instead, bacterial pneumonia in the bronchi leading from the windpipe or trachea to the lungs. The condition had not yet spread to the lungs. It was likely brought on by cilia paralysis along the nasal passages down as far as the bronchi, caused by breathing in the 8-to-10 packs-a-day cigarette smoke produced by adults in a small, airtight 600-square-foot house. The cilia, which are hair-like, could not sweep out bacteria and debris as is their usual function, the bronchi became inflamed, and they began to fill with fluid that the cilia could not move out.
Prevention Is An Effective Home Remedy
- Prevent fevers by limiting your exposure to all infectious diseases. Generally, be inoculated and have your children inoculated against “childhood diseases”, hepatitis, polio, rotavirus, pneumococcus, and meningitis. Additional vaccines are available and parents may or may not wish their children to have them. Further, inoculations do not work for everyone and some people are even allergic to some of these preparations. See the video to the right about vaccines and alleged improper uses to control human population growth.
Limit interactions with people that have communicable infections. Wear anti-bacterial/anti-viral face masks during breakouts or epidemics of infectious diseases like the H1N1 virus.
- Wash hands frequently, as recommended by healthcare practitioners. Children can learn to wash hands before and after eating, after using a computer, after using the bathroom, after being in a crowd, after the schools day is over, after being around someone who's sick, and after petting animals. Carry disinfectant wipes or hand sanitizer for emergency cleanup when there is not soap and water and for wiping down computer keyboards and mice before using them -- Capital University in Columbus, Ohio keeps a large full container of disinfectant wipes at each and every computer station n public computing areas. Worthington Libraries keep several containers within easy reach of patrons, along with hand sanitizer. The Ohio State University features convenient hand sanitizer dispensers throughout campus facilities. Some restaurants are adding these dispensers around town as well.
- Keep hands away from the eyes, nose, and mouth, particular in a public computing lab at school or in a library, but anytime. Wash hands after touching them. Infections are often transmitted by touch via the skin, eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. Children can learn to turn away from people and cover mouths/noses when sneezing, coughing, and yawning.
- Check body temperatures if you are your child are unwell, or if there is an outbreak or epidemic of a disease that can cause fevers. Several types of thermometers are available currently, including electronic/digital oral thermometers, ear thermometers, and forehead strips that produce readouts. Rectal thermometers are used for babies. See Fevers and Measuring Body Temperatures
- Do not smoke around children. If you smoke, quit; but if you can’t or don’t want to quit, stop for the duration of your child’s fever and illness and during any of your own, if you can.
- Do not administer medications, home cures, or non-food substances “just because.” It is foolish to administer alcohol, OTC drugs, or “home brews” to children for no reason. Please do not use leftover prescription medications from anyone for any other person - they are prescribed according to weight and medical history and cutting someone else's pill up for a child is risky, presumptuous, and sometimes deadly -- Take it from a survivor.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS