Fevers: Causes and Treatments


crutchfieldsquareA fever is an increase in temperature of the human body. A fever is a way for your body to tell you that something is not quite right, with the most common cause of fever being illness.

For most people, normal body temperature is at or near an average of 98.6 Fahrenheit, although most physicians consider 97-99 F degrees to be “within normal limits.”

In addition to being a signal of an illness or other problem, a fever can play a key role in fighting off an infection, which is often the cause of a fever.

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Crutchfield)
(Photo courtesy of Dr. Crutchfield)

The main triggers for fevers

  • A viral or bacterial infection
  • Severe sunburn
  • Heavy or intense exercise
  • Recent immunizations
  • Certain inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and types of psoriasis
  • Medications, especially some antibiotics, seizure and blood pressure medications
  • Teeth coming in babies


Why does one get a fever?

There is an area in the brain called the hypothalamus that is the master thermostat of the body that controls body temperature. When an infection occurs, the immune system releases proteins called “cytokines” that signal the hypothalamus to increase body temperature.

Some proteins of infectious germs, like bacteria, may also produce a rise in body temperature. It is believed that a fever enables the immune system to work better to fight off infection. Shivering can also raise body temperature by working the muscles.



Often, no treatment is required, and the fever will resolve on its own. If one is uncomfortable or on a doctor’s advice, medicines like Tylenol, ibuprofen or aspirin can all effectively reduce a fever. Note that aspirin is not recommended in those under the age of 16 to avoid a rare condition called Reyes’s syndrome.

Other recommended responses are to drink plenty of fluids, get plenty of rest, and keep blankets light. Additional comfort measures include using a fan, air conditioning, or taking a lukewarm bath.


When to see a doctor

In general, for a child under six months of age, contact your doctor for any fever of 100 F or higher. If the child is over six months of age, contact your doctor with any fever of over 102 F.

Also, newborns can have problems regulating body temperature and illness can also cause a drop in temperature, so contact the doctor in  any newborn with temperature of less than 97 F.

Contact your physician for older children with a fever of 102 F if accompanied with other symptoms like GI upset, rash, headache, feeling run-down, irritable, or nausea.

High fevers in children can cause seizures.



Washing hands is the most effective way to prevent the spread of germs and illness. Avoid sharing food and utensils or other items with persons who are ill. Be sure always to cover your coughs and sneezes with an elbow (not a hand you touch things with) when ill.

Be sure to talk to your doctor about the guidelines above before a fever occurs to get an exact “fever action plan” in place.


Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.