How to Bring Fever Down Safely

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How to Bring Fever Down—and When You Might Want To

Part 2 in our series on fever

How to Bring Fever Down Safelyby James Hubbard, MD, MPH

It’s a common worry—you come down with some illness, start running a fever, and feel miserable. You don’t care if fever is one of the ways the body fights off infection. You just want to feel better.

And I don’t necessarily disagree, if you use the proper methods and don’t overdo them, because fever isn’t the only thing that helps your body fight off infection.

Bringing fever down to make you feel better increases the odds you’ll drink more fluids and maybe eat a little. (Dehydration makes all your organs work less efficiently and is one of the main dangers to try to avoid in almost any illness.)

But some can people obsess a little too much about fever. Fever from infection that stays below 105 F orally doesn’t directly damage the body, at least as far as we know. Of course the cause of the fever needs to be properly diagnosed, and treatment begun. A fever even lower than this can be a sign that something’s going dangerously wrong. But that thing isn’t the fever. And you can do harm by trying to bring the oral body temperature down to exactly normal. (The main thing is don’t overdose on medicines.)

Here are some practical ways to bring fever down—with and without medicine:

  • Taking ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol). Either takes 30 minutes or an hour to start working, with the peak effect kicking in around four hours. They’ve both been found to work about the same. Use whichever you prefer (heeding the precautions), but remember acetaminophen is usually given no more than every four hours and ibuprofen no more than every six hours.
  • Alternating the two. This method may work better, but the side effects of using both have not been well studied. Ask your doctor ahead of time for specific advice. If recommended, ask for suggested time intervals between the two.
  • Taking a lukewarm bath. This may help. But if you start shivering, that can actually make the temperature rise instead of fall. Taking acetaminophen an hour before the bath can cut down on the shivering.
What Not to Do

“Alcohol bath for fever: Never do this. Dangerous amounts of alcohol can be absorbed through the skin.”

[tweet this]

Alcohol bath. Never do this. Dangerous amounts of alcohol can be absorbed through the skin.

Also be careful of overdosing. Never take over the recommended dosage and time interval of acetaminophen or ibuprofen. (No aspirin for children and fever. It increases the risk for the potentially deadly Reye’s syndrome). Doing so poses a real risk of permanent kidney or liver damage. Of course, if you take too little that won’t help either. Go by the package directions. Also make sure any other over-the-counter medicine you’re taking doesn’t contain either of the two.

Always check with your doctor for specific instructions. Also, read my tips on when to worry about a fever.


So, what do you think? Have you ever been not able to get a fever down? What was the outcome?

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  • LoreleiMarie

    Hi i had a question ……Garlic ….Reishi Mushroom and Bee pollen Propolis Does that HELP at all ……???

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      To bring down fever? I don’t think it would.

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  • Manda

    My 2yo daughter actually had a virus a couple of weeks ago. She had an odd, patchy rash, general grumpiness, and a fever that we had trouble bringing down (102.8). The PA at the walk-in clinic actually told us to stop trying to bring the fever down, which I thought was a little strange. I’m not someone who panics over fever, and I generally don’t treat one unless it’s high or my kid is just miserable (which she was- refusing to eat, drink, or really move at all). Unfortunately, my husband was the one who took her to the clinic, and he didn’t think to ask the PA the reasoning behind this.

    I do remember an amusing incident with my oldest daughter. She was about 18 months old and had been diagnosed with bronchitis. She started wheezing late one night, so we went to the ER. While we were in the triage area, they discovered she had a pretty good fever going, so they told us to strip her down to her diaper and sent us back to the waiting room. Apparently, about twenty other children were having the same issue. The entire waiting room was full of naked babies!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Funny. At least they limited the advice to babies.

  • Amy

    I just got a case of tonsillitis a few days ago and it is still bothering me a lot. I am taking amoxicillin and pain relievers like Tylenol right now but still the fever and discomfort comes right back when the Tylenol wears off every time. Is there a way to cure this faster? Or a better way to keep away the discomfort?

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Gargling with warm salt water or getting one of the sore throat numbing spray might help. Typically, strep takes about 72 hours before symptoms resolve and may not get much better until then. If it’s been longer, you could check back to the provider who prescribed you the Amoxicillin to see if treatment should be altered.

  • Nature mom

    Damp ice cold (nearly frozen) cotton socks on feet, quickly covered by real wool socks will lower a fever fast. Just draws the fever out. Learned from naturopathic doctor. Works every time, only uncomfortable for a second.

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  • Nurse Laura

    I really appreciated your comments about shivering. I have been a nurse for 43 years and remember well the days we used alcohol baths or used ice water to lower temperature, but too often saw the resultant shivering and rise in temperature (we didn’t understand what shivering did). Then we started using cooling blankets and still do, though we still occasionally see the shivering problems. As usual great comments and tips. Thank you!

    • James Hubbard, MD, MPH

      Thanks for the feedback.