Do You Still Have the Fever Phobic Mama Bug?

Maybe its not buggin’ you yet, since we’re out of the prime season for sick kids with fevers.  That’s why we’re talking about the fever phobic mama bug in the middle of summer. Studies show that you are less likely to reconsider your fever reducing behavior if your child already has a fever.

Last month, I addressed the fears that arise when a mama is infected with the fever phobic mama bug.  But this isn’t enough!  You need more medicine (in the form of education) to get rid of this greedy-for-a-fever-reducing-drug bug.  You need to understand the purposes of a fever.  Once you get this down, that fever phobic mama bug will have nothing on you.

If there’s no life threatening danger in letting little Johnny have a 103°F fever, then why should you let him have the fever?  What good can a fever be?

Fevers impede the growth and replication of many viruses and bacteria. They directly activate your immune system to target and fight the infection, whether it be viral or bacterial. If a fever could talk to your immune system, this is what he’d say: “Time to kick it up a notch, get moving!”

By giving your child an antipyretic (fever reducing) medication like Motrin or Tylenol,  you’re basically shutting down this process.  You’re saying no to the fever, and turning off the body’s natural signalling process to recruit the immune system.  In other words, you are directly suppressing your child’s ability to fight the infection.  This may prolong the illness and drag out the symptoms.  Who wants their kid to be sick even longer?

Not only do the use of antipyretic drugs suppress the immune system, but they come with their own bag of tricks. They are drugs.  We don’t take drugs for free.  Acetominophen is taxing on the liver.  Ibuprofen can cause gastritis or gastrointestinal bleeding and it also inhibits platelet functioning (platelets are cells in the blood that help it to clot).  Of course, there is a decreased risk of these side effects with conservative usage, but what else is it doing to their little bodies?  We just don’t know.

Another symptom of the fever phobic mama bug can come in the form of comfort.  This symptom manifests with the overwhelming need to administer comfort to the warm child in the form of a fever reducing drug.  Comfort gets confused with numbers, and little Johnny’s temperature must remain exactly at 98.6°F (37°C).

It’s true that fevers are uncomfortable, for both kids and adults alike.  As a mama, it’s difficult to watch your child suffer from the physiological consequences of a fever.  Many kids can act and play just fine with a 103°F, but other kids may be miserable at that temperature.  It’s important to take this into consideration, and treat your child, not the number.

There are some simple comfort measures to take before running to the Tylenol.  Try taking a layer of clothing off your child.  Make sure your child is staying hydrated.  Check the temperature of the room.  Scientifically, the use of a fever reducing drug to improve your child’s comfort may not be as effective as you think.  A 1991 study found that acetaminophen’s ability to improve a child’s comfort is more parental assumption than it is fact.1

I hope that fever phobic mama bug doesn’t come buggin’ you this fall when the cold and flu season hits.

“The children may be the ones who swallow the medicine, but the therapy seems aimed more at the anxiety of their parents and physicians than at any real danger that fever holds for them.” 2 Henry Adam, MD


1 Kramer MS, Naimark LE, Roberts-Brauer R, et al.  “Risks and benefits of paracetamol antipyresis in young children with fever of presumed viral origin.”  Lancet. 1991; 337:591-594.
2 Adam HM.  “Physiology and Management of Fever.”  Chapter 53.  American Academy of Pediatrics Textbook of Pediatric Care. McInery TK, Adam HM, Campbell DE, et al.  American Academy of Pediatrics, 2009.
3 Aasan, Candace.  Class Lecture.   Pediatrics II.  Bastyr University.  Spring 2011.

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3 Responses

  1. Erica R.

    I so agree! For work I recently had to write about an upcoming book called The Healing Power of Fever and so many of my coworkers thought the idea was crazy. But, as a mom, I’ve always let the fever run its course and my son is sick faaaar less often and for shorter times than other kids his age.


  2. Dr. Archer

    I never heard of that book! I just looked it up on Amazon. Looks like its written by a naturopath!

    Good to hear that there are other mamas out there letting fevers run their course. :)


  3. Donna Mathwig

    Good info Archer! As a mom who has never been one to take her kids to the doc at the first sign of illness, I appreciate the wisdom of letting the fever do it’s job. I recall being shamed by one doc, when I’d let Dylan try to fight an ear infection with fever, but had finally gone in after the pain seemed to much for him – his answer was immediate antibiotics, telling me I should’ve come in at the first sign. Certainly over-use of antibiotics and fever-reducers comes from a lack of understanding how the body works – I’ve always thought it crazy that people run to the doc at the first sign of illness with their little ones. I’m curious (from a historical perspective) when this dependence upon MD’s and drugs became so entrenched in our mothering?


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