Break a Fever or Not??

Updated on October 03, 2013
R.M. asks from Evanston, IL
28 answers

I feel like there are a lot of conflicting opinions online regarding giving tylenol/motrin for a fever or leaving it alone letting it "do its job." I have friends who swear that giving fever meds helps their child hear faster but shouldn't it be the other way around? Fevers in general do not "scare" me as my son is a high fever child (regularly gets in the 104s and low 105s) and my girls never go past the high 103s but I am just trying to figure out what is best for her body. What do you mamas do? For reference, I am referring to a 5 year old with a viral illness (semi-dry cough and a little nasal congestion) with a fever that is around 102. I have been giving umcka and sambucol to hopefully shorten the duration, pushing fluids and having her rest. She is currently asleep. I need her to get over this thing ASAP because I cannot miss work again tomorrow! :/

Just to clarify, I am not meaning that I am going to send her to school. I am referring to the fact that my MIL is only comfortable watching her if she does not have a fever. :) Thx again!

Ok people, please back off of my "cannot miss work again" sentence!! I did not mean or every say that I would ever send her to school with a fever, I am a school teacher myself!! Geez! I even reiterated that in the sentence I added, and you guys are STILL responding as if I am going to send her to school sick. People are so quick to jump down someone's throat on this site!!!!

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answers from Grand Forks on

I only treat a fever if the fever is making them too uncomfortable to rest, otherwise I let the fever do its job and fight the infection.

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answers from Dallas on

I don't give either of my kids meds when they have a fever unless they seem to be in pain. My kids mostly sleep when they have a fever...why would I want to mess that up???? LOL

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answers from San Diego on

I look more at how they are behaving and feeling more than I do the number on the thermometer. I do not automatically jump to giving Tylenol if they begin running a fever.
If they begin to complain of a bad headache or something along those lines then I certainly do give something. If they are in discomfort but it's something they can manage on their own, I just leave it alone and let it do it's think. My kids get better faster when I let things be as much as possible. It runs longer when I give them a lot.
Pain meds/fever reducers have their time and place but they can easily be over used.

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answers from Chicago on

It depends on how they are acting - if they're miserable/uncomfortable I give them meds.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

A fever is part of the body's immunologic response to infection, which can be bacterial, viral, or parasitic, but can also stem from an autoimmune response (as in some autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn's) or be in response to other disease processes or severe injuries (such as cancer, compound fracture, etc.) As one mom mentioned, antipyretics such as tylenol and ibuprofen don't "break" a fever -- they merely interrupt that part of the immune cascade responsible for releasing chemical signals that tell the body's thermostat to turn up the heat.

That being said, that response does serve some purpose, in that (at least in theory) the increased body temperature makes the internal environment less hospitable to the invading organism. However, most invaders are not substantially affected by the small increase in temperature seen with a fever. The rest of the actions of the immune system (induction of antibody response, targetting of killer T-cells, macrophages, dendritic cells, etc.) are largely unaffected by the actions of tylenol and ibuprofen. So, if you use these drugs to bring down the fever so a person feels better, it's really not going to affect how rapidly the person's immune system will fight off the infection.

Not that it will help your mom's attitude any, but bringing down the fever also doesn't affect whether or not your child is still infectious (which is what I'm guessing your mom is concerned about). In fact, as long as she's running a fever, without knowing exactly what the infectious agent is, it's a good bet that she's still contagious. In any case, most of these medications have only short-term action, so your mother would still have to re-administer the drug within 4 - 6 hours of the last time you give your child the meds. One thing to consider when giving antipyretics to a child (or anyone, for that matter), is whether or not the fever is so high that it could cause it's own problems. Even a "high burner" like your son runs the risk of having febrile convulsions with a fever above 102 deg. F., although if your son is over the age of 3 and has not suffered a febrile seizure with a fever of 104 or 105, he's not likely to experience one now. In any case, febrile seizures may be a bit scary, but rarely cause any actual injury (unless the child falls or chokes as a result of the seizure.

My person opinion is that, unless the person has had a negative reaction to an antipyretic drug, there's no reason to deny them the relief these drugs can deliver. Just make sure to follow the dosage directions correctly to avoid potential toxicity.

I hope your little one is on her feet again soon. With a virus, expect the duration of the illness to last 7 - 10 days.

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answers from Washington DC on

i'm firmly in the 'let the fever do its job' camp, treating with blankets or cool cloths as the fever dictates. you already know the danger zones for your kids, so you're ahead of the game. i'd do exactly what you're doing, and keep your fingers crossed for tomorrow.
ETA i didn't see any down-the-throat jumping. did some posts get pulled?
i just wanted to add that i do think it's fine to give meds to help with the comfort factor if the child is miserable. but i don't try to hurry the fever along.

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answers from Danville on


I have to agree with the other parents so far! Kiddo needs to be home again tomorrow...

Also, as a former director of a child development center, NOTHING ticked me off more than a parent who 'masked' the symptoms of an obviously 'not well' child, and brought the sick kiddo in. Was a sure fire recipe for other kiddos to 'catch' the bug.

I hope you have a back up plan. I know it is hard.




I certainly did not mean to tick you off!!

You sure seem a little sensitive regarding this topic...

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answers from Philadelphia on

The fever doesn't have a job, it is a symptom of the body doing its job. Reducing the fever doesn't slow the process that is causing the fever it just keeps the body able to continue the process so yes, reducing the fever should help the body fight. Much easier to rest if you are not burning up. Less risk of the fever spiking and causes seizures and even brain damage.

There is no upside to withholding fever reducing medicine.

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answers from Columbia on

You'll be home tomorrow.

The fever itself isn't actually fighting anything. The fever is a symptom of a fight going on at a cellular level. Reduction of that symptom is sometimes necessary for the safety of the patient.

The rule of thumb in hospitals is 101'F or higher in children, 103'F or higher for adults should be given the appropriate dose of fever reducer for thier weight. The reason for this is that fevers above those temperatures can spike extremely quickly, causing febrile seizures in children, which can result in permanent brain damage. Even with a fever reducer, the fever will usually remain low-grade (around 99-100'F), which is safe and shows the body is still fighting.

Please do not send your child to school until she is without fever for 24 hours.

ETA: Also, Tenpenny, Mercola, Oz and other shills for "alternative medicine," vitamin and supplement companies are known for distorting facts about medicine and vaccine. I wouldn't take any article on their sites seriously. In the medical community, we have a term for alternative medicine that has actually been proven to work.....we call it MEDICINE. If it's still called "alternative medicine," it's yet unproven.

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answers from Dallas on

If the fever is not deemed dangerous by my Dr. I typically allow it to break. You can send a child to school, unless they are fever free for 24 hours. (UNmedicated fever free. Not, medication taking the fever down.) Can you hire a sitter? 102 fever shows that she is still ill, and the fever breaking does not mean she is well enough to attend school. Either you bring someone over, or you miss work. There aren't any other choices here, sorry.

I do tend to give some tylenol, at least once. He doesn't need to lay here aching and uncomfortable.

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answers from New York on

First of all, Tylenol/Motrin doesn't "break" a fever. It artificially suppresses it. I've never seen anything, ever, to support that idea that suppressing a fever will make the whole thing run its course quicker. I'd be pretty dubious about that. What's more up in the air is whether letting a fever be a fever really helps or not. Some say yes, some say no, not really. With my son (and myself), honestly, I suppress fevers for the sake of comfort. It's bad enough to be sick without all the symptoms of a fever per se. However, a kid on Tylenol/Motrin is still a sick, contagious kid, and that kid canNOT be in school or daycare. If you have to work tomorrow, start working the phones right now and arrange for someone to be there with her. You can't send her out among other kids if she's running any kind of temp at all.

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answers from New York on

102 deserves Tylenol or Motrin. Looks like you are home tomorrow.

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answers from Baton Rouge on

A virus is going to take as long as it takes to run its course and it doesn't care if you have leave from work.
I don't treat fevers under 104.

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answers from Fargo on

Do you realize that no one was unkind to you or jumped down your throat? Are you anxious over your daughter's health and being able to return to work? I would be, so I understand, but your heated response isn't warranted.

To specifically answer your question, Motrin and Tylenol do NOT hasten the recovery process. Letting the fever play out on it's own, unless it's dangerous or uncomfortable for your child, *may* hasten recovery time, but illness is on it's own timeline.
Is your daughter uncomfortable? If so, don't withhold meds on the off chance that it will speed recovery.

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answers from Lakeland on

What I have done since my daughter was born is wait until it gets to 103 or higher. I will only give it if she seems uncomfortable. If she is acting like her normal self then I wont give her anything. She is 7 now and has only had three high fevers in her life and they lasted less then 36 hours each time.

She does get sick now and then but her body fights it off within a few days. I also use Elderberry extract when she gets sick instead of OTC meds.

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answers from Phoenix on

I would definitely give Tylenol or Motrin for 102 fever. That will make her more comfortable. I agree with Patty, if she has a 102 fever today, she probably shouldn't be at school tomorrow.

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answers from Houston on

I give meds to my 2yo when it reaches 102 OR if he is absolutely miserable and restless and I can't help him feel better, which has only been once.

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answers from Dallas on

girl, i'm a working mom and i totally get the concept of not missing work again, sheesh, sorry for the rudeness :)
don't worry about it, look for the good advice, like mine! :) lol

anyway, my son's almost 5 & i used to always give meds as soon as it was over 101 or so, but now, ha! nope, only if he's acting like he feels bad or tells me he is. i do give it at night, since it normally spikes then, and so we can all get good sleep :)
you're a more tenured mama then me but that's how i roll! :)
good luck to your lil girl. wish your MIL were more help b/c that kinda defeats the purpose of having someone watch 'em if they DON'T have a fever, otherwise you could send her to school. ah well...
take care hon :)
thanks for teaching our children!

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answers from San Diego on

When our son was very young, someone gave us that Baby 411 book that is written by a doctor. I read everything he had to say about fevers and treatment for them and it made sense to me. Based on his recommendation, we generally do not give anything to reduce the fever. It is meant to be fighting off the infection and giving the medicine reduces the bodies ability to do so in a timely manner. Obviously, the doctor in the book can explain it better with more science behind it, but that's my quick and dirty answer.

Edit: if our son is in pain or just so miserable he can't sleep, of course, I'll give him some children's tylenol. It's really situational.

p.s., sorry you're getting flack. As a working Mom, I can understand the stress of feeling anxious about missing days at work and you saying so didn't imply to me one bit that you would send your child to school sick.

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answers from New York on

We gauge by behavior. Mine is a kid who is very active and engaged, even when sick. We'll give him some tylenol at bedtime if the fever is esp high so he doesn't sweat through his jammies and bedding. Can't say that there any real scientific support for this one. It's just that I find that uncomforatble, so I imagine he might too.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.

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answers from Seattle on

It is best to let the fever run its course and do its job. (Yup. That is what the pediatricians now say.) That said, if your daughter were really uncomfortable due to the fever, I'd go ahead and give her some meds.

Furthermore, if your MIL will only watch your daughter if she has no fever (REALLY? Is your MIL that neurotic?), then it would also make sense for the big picture for you to give her some meds.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

First off all people who jump down your throat for saying that you cannot miss work again need a reality check. As much as we would all like to live in a country where every mother can take as many days off to take care of her sick child as needed - unfortunately we don't, and many of us are at risk of loosing their jobs if they cannot work because our child is sick.

I don't get paid days off for any reason. If I don't work I don't get paid, if I miss too many shifts I am out. If I have to choose between having a job and a roof over my head and giving my kid some tylenol... easy choice.

That said: if your sitter (whoever it is) feel more comfortable if you medicate your child's fever do it. When I am at home with DD I don't usually give anything for less than 102 F, but if I have a sitter for DD (yes, I have to go to work too) I will medicate her. Makes her feel better and gives the sitter peace of mind.

Good luck.

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answers from Raleigh on

I would just go with your gut. If she is acting miserable and refuses to eat or drink, I would give a little children's motrin/ibuprofen. Otherwise, I would just let it run its course. My son generally handles a fever better than my daughter (who is known to vomit with a fever). In the case of the latter, I usually give meds.

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answers from San Diego on

I didn't read the other responses but I am sorry that people judged you about not being able to miss more work. REALLY not what you need...!

When my son was a toddler he used to get real high fevers, like 104 plus and one time the thermascan just said, "HOT" which was really scary. I took him to the ER and Dr. visits a lot!! One ER doc told me that my son had a "High cooker" and not to worry about the fever and unless he was in pain to not give him anything if it was under 104. If he was in pain though, by all means give him Tylenol or Advil. I've really lived by that philosophy since then but... last Spring my daughter had a fever, but had a huge camping trip planned and really wanted to go. I didn't give her anything and her Dr. was really on me because she believed that her body needed the rest to heal. We argued about that and she told us that her husband who also was a Dr. had the same belief as us, unless miserable, to not treat the fever and let the body heal itself.

Good luck and I hope she feels better soon!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Miami on

I had the flu on vacation on an island during spring break. Everyone was having a blast, wind surfing, enjoying 80 degrees with a cool breeze on the ocean and drinks with little umbrellas. I was laying in the bed, not being able to sleep at hight, and staying in our room watching bad TV and wishing I was able to enjoy those little umbrella drinks. I knew I had a fever, but decided to let myself have it in order to "fight the virus".

When I got back home and the doctor told me I had influenza A, I told him about not taking a fever reducer. He told me specifically that I should have been taking tylenol in order to get some sleep. He told me that it hurts my body more to let the fever stand than to pull the fever down. Not resting and hurting so much hurts the process of fighting the virus.

I learned a lesson from that.

As far as my kids go, I NEVER withheld fever and pain relievers from them. It's one thing to do it to myself. A totally different thing to subject my child to the pain and misery of a high fever. Even if you WERE right about it taking less time to get better (and you're wrong), why is THAT more important than your child being totally miserable?

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answers from Honolulu on

If she has a fever still, she also needs to stay home from school tomorrow. A student cannot go to school unless they have been fever free for 24 hours.
And your daughter is still sick/displaying active symptoms of being sick and still has a fever.
You or someone will have to be home with her tomorrow too.
But your Mom, said she will only stay and watch her, if she does not have a fever. So you still might have to stay home with your daughter.

High fevers like 104, 105, or perhaps even 103, needs meds/Motin etc. High fevers, can cause damage to the body/seizures. And it needs to be brought down.

Lower fevers like 102, 100, can be let go and let it takes it course.
Of course, with any fever, you need to monitor it.
When my kids are sick and have a fever, I take their temp every hour. I know them and their symptoms and how they are or not. One of my kids has a high pain tolerance. The other is not. But I take their temp, regularly and often, even at night when they are sleeping.
High fevers, can be dangerous.
With regular lower fevers, I don't give my kids anything. But once it gets higher, I do.

This past week at my kids' school, where I work, one of the kids told me "My Mommy said I can't play at recess, I have to sit down." I said to the child "Why?" And he said "because I'm sick and have a fever."
So I said "And your Mom knows that and sent you to school?" And he said "yeah...." I felt his head, and it was hot. He was also not looking too good and was uncomfortable. I told his Teacher. The Teacher said "Yes, we know. But the parents said they took his temperature this morning and they said he did not have a fever and sent him to school with instructions he not play at recess etc." And the Teacher added "But we know, he's sick and has a fever. We already sent him to the Health Room. He has a fever. But the parent's say he doesn't....." And this had happened for 2 days in a row already.
So the Teacher sent him back to the Health Room again, and he had a fever, and they called the parents again.
The poor boy was, sick. But the parents think he was well enough to go and stay at school. And they send him to school after giving him Tylenol. The boy said his Mom gave him that before school.



answers from Minneapolis on

I don't think meds for a fever help or hinder the recovery process. A viral illness fever typically lasts 3-5 days with or without meds. That said, I give meds for anything over about 101.5 for comfort. I hate to see them miserable and they will often rest better with the meds. Sometimes I let the fever go for a little just to see if it's still there or if it's continuing to rise, but if they are very uncomfortable I give them the medications. Unfortunately, if you can't miss work tomorrow it looks like you might need to look into other arrangements. A relative or friend who can stay with her? Good luck.

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