What is a fever?

When you have a fever, your body temperature is higher than normal. Although “normal” body temperature is 98.6˚F, a fever is generally considered to be a temperature between 100˚F to 104˚F. This is because body temperature goes up and down throughout the day, the lowest being in the morning and the highest in the late afternoon.

When is a fever dangerous in adults?

Fever itself is not considered dangerous as it is one way the body fights against infection. However, fever is considered dangerous in adults when your body temperature is greater than 105.8˚F. A temperature that high can be damaging to body organs and particularly dangerous for someone with a heart or lung disorder. This is because fever can cause increased heart rate and breathing. Fever that causes brain damage would generally have to be higher than 107.6˚F.

Fever that is accompanied by other warning signs is cause for alarm and requires immediate medical attention by a doctor. Fever warning signs include:

  • Any change in mental state, such as confusion
  • Aching and/or stiff neck
  • Purplish red spots under the skin (may indicate bleeding)

Any fever accompanied by rapid breathing or heart rate, shortness of breath, or low blood pressure also requires medical attention.

In general, if the fever lasts more than four days, you should see a doctor.

When is fever dangerous in babies and the elderly?

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises calling the doctor:

  • For babies between three and six months old with a fever of 101 degrees F or higher
  • For children older than six months with a fever of 103 degrees F or higher

For elderly people, a temperature below 95 degrees or as high as 102 degrees is considered dangerous.

Symptoms of a fever

Fever is often accompanied by other symptoms, which may include:

  • Aching
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Shivering
  • Sweating

A person who has fever no other symptoms may have what’s called a fever of unknown origin (FUO), possibly caused by an unusual chronic infection or some other disease or disorder.

Causes of a high fever

A high fever is most often caused by an infection and the fever itself lasts four days or less, such as what you would have with a common cold or the flu. Fever may also be a sign of urinary tract infection, skin infection, or gastrointestinal infection.

Fever is less commonly caused by:

  • Inflammation in the body
  • A drug reaction (such as to an illicit drug like cocaine or to an anesthetic drug used for surgical treatment)
  • Autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Cancer, particularly leukemia or lymphoma

Fever treatment options

A fever can usually be treated at home with acetaminophen or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen or aspirin. If taking acetaminophen, be careful about taking a cold medicine that also contains acetaminophen as this may cause overdose.

A cool wash cloth on the forehead may also bring some comfort and relief.

If you have any of the dangerous warning signs of fever, be sure to call your doctor right away or visit an urgent care center near you.


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