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Fevers aren’t cool. They’re a common symptom of many different illnesses and conditions, from viruses and bacterial infections to inflammatory diseases and heat exhaustion. If being too hot wasn’t enough, fevers are usually accompanied by chills, sweating, dehydration, body aches, and fatigue.
We think of fever as an illness, but they’re actually a natural part of the healing process and a normal immune response—a signal that your body is working to get well. Treating a fever won’t actually fight the illness or infection that’s causing it, but cooling yourself down can make you more comfortable. We asked experts to share their best tips for beating the heat when facing a fever.
Nutrition tips for fevers
“Starving a fever isn’t supporting your recovery, as illness can take a lot from a person,” she says. “As challenging as it can be, get up to eat—whether it’s solid foods or liquid nutrition.” This will help you get the nutrients and build the strength you need to fight off an infection.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Fevers often cause you to sweat, which can result in dehydration. And if you also have a stomach bug that’s causing diarrhea or vomiting, you’re losing even more fluids. Load up on liquids: water, herbal teas, broths, or electrolyte-enhanced drinks. How do you know if you’re drinking enough? You should be urinating every two to three hours, Ansari says.
Pack in probiotics
“A healthy gut is important for a healthy immune system,” Ansari says. She recommends choosing probiotic-rich foods, including yogurt, kefir, or miso soup—all of which may be soothing, easy-to-eat choices when we’re feeling yucky.
Boost your protein
“The body needs protein to help antibody production needed to fight off infections,” Ansari says. She recommends getting protein from beans, yogurt, nuts, quinoa, soy, eggs, or chicken soup.
Focus on fruits and veggies
Fresh produce filled with vitamin C and beta-carotene (vitamin A) can support the immune system. Good sources of vitamin C include broccoli, kale, oranges, sweet limes, bell peppers, berries, tomatoes, sweet potatoes. Turn to carrots, mango, squash, tomatoes, sweet potatoes for beta-carotene. Find recipes that mix foods from both categories, or blend them into a cooling smoothie or smoothie bowl. Add yogurt for a protein boost.
Traditional Chinese medicine tips for a fever
“In Chinese medicine, we treat fevers by stimulating the immune system to sweat out fever that’s stuck in the body,” says Gudrun Snyder, D.Ac, M.S.Ac, an acupuncturist and founder of Moon Rabbit Acupuncture in Chicago. A little sweating will help bring down the body temperature, she says, but too much can lead to dehydration and cause exhaustion or fatigue.
Hot ginger or cinnamon tea can “release exterior,” which roughly translates to opening the pores to aid sweating. Mint tea is both cooling and spicy, so it can start a sweat while also cooling the body.
“Bone broth is not only a modern trend, but it has also been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years,” Snyder says. “We use it to boost the immune system, nourish, and fill the belly if you have a loss of appetite.” If you’re not making your own, look for versions that have low sodium.
Apply some pressure
Two main pressure points on the body are used to reduce fevers, Snyder says. “Press gently on each of these points when you have a fever for some temporary relief,” she says.
“Pool at the Crook” (LI 11 Quichi): Located on the exterior/outer end of your elbow crease, it’s the principle point to reduce a high fever.
“Joining Valley” (LI4 Hegu): It’s the fleshy part of the hand between the bottom knuckle of the thumb and the bottom knuckle of the pointer finger. This point is used to treat chills and fever, adjust sweating, and alleviate a headache.
Internal medicine tips for a fever
When we get fevers, the body is trying to make itself less hospitable to invading pathogens, says Phillip Kadaj, M.D., a board-certified internal-medicine physician in Michigan. “I like to think of [a pathogen] as a guest at my house who doesn’t like a hot room and who has worn out his or her welcome,” he says. A fever turns up the thermostat to encourage the invader to leave.
When we shiver with chills from a fever, our instinct is to pile on the blankets and sweats to warm up. This can be counterproductive and can raise body temperature even more, Dr. Kadaj says. Keep clothing as loose and light as possible, adding and removing layers as needed.
Keep things lukewarm
To chill a hot body, take a lukewarm bath or shower in water that’s as close to the body’s own temperature as possible. Water that’s too warm or too cold can throw off the internal thermostat even more.
Try a fever reducer
If the discomfort becomes unbearable or begins to spike too high, take an antipyretic—a medication meant to reduce fevers. Dr. Kadaj prefers acetaminophen, which has a long track record and works by essentially telling the brain to lower the thermostat. “It works quite well and is safe for nearly all age groups for fever,” he says. Don’t exceed more than 4,000 mg in a 24-hour period. If you can’t take acetaminophen, naproxen or ibuprofen work just as well.