High-grade fevers, called hyperpyrexia, involve temperatures above 103 degrees and may be dangerous. However, when gauging a fever’s danger in yourself or your child, it’s more complicated than just looking at a number especially in children. When is a Fever too High in general.
For most people, most of the time, a fever isn’t dangerous in terms of causing brain damage. This may go against what you’ve been taught to fear. It helps to know what causes fever, what the potential complications can be, and when to call your doctor or head to the emergency room. It’s also important to know what’s different about fevers in kids versus adults.
Why You Get Fevers
Usually, fevers are actually a good thing. They’re part of the natural way the body fights off infections. A part of the brain called the hypothalamus acts as a thermostat for your body.
Most of the time, it keeps body temperatures around 98.6 degrees (37 degrees Celsius). When you get sick, though, it raises the temperature to form it hard for germs to measure and multiply. That’s all well and good unless the fever gets so high that it could start harming you.
A lot of things can cause high fevers. Some include low-grade fevers that become high-grade, such as:
If fever continues unchecked, or your body doesn’t answer treatment, the fever may rise into the zone. Some medical conditions that don’t involve low fevers are associated with high-grade fever. Some of these are:
Neuroleptic malignant syndrome
Symptoms and Complications
As your fever rises, it’s going to cause new symptoms.
Low-grade fever (pyrexia) symptoms include
Eyes that are achy or tired
Early high-grade fever (hyperpyrexia) symptoms should include those from the list above, plus
Dizziness and light-headedness
Persistent or worsening high-grade fever can also cause
Contracted (small) pupils
Cool, moist, pale skin
Upset stomach or vomiting
Decreased urine or inability to urinate
Longer-lasting high-grade fever or temperatures above 106.1 F can lead to
Loss of consciousness
Shallow, rapid breathing
Hot, dry, red skin
Weak, fast heartbeat
Dilated (large) pupils
Fevers over 106.1 F (41.2 C) need medical attention to prevent serious, long-term consequences including brain damage and death.
Brain Damage and Death
While high fevers, especially those that are prolonged, can lead to brain damage and death, this is extremely rare.
According to a 2016 study, heatstroke is the most deadly heat-related illness, killing 58% or more of the people it affects.
Among survivors, most make full recoveries, but some may have long-term organ damage.1
Organs that can be damaged by prolonged hyperpyrexia include:
Heart and cardiovascular system
Proper treatment is the key to preventing severe complications of high-grade fevers.
Treatment: When is a Fever too High
If someone has a fever but feels fine for the most part, treatment isn’t necessary. In fact, because the fever’s job is to kill infectious agents, treating a low-grade fever can interfere with the body’s efforts.
When it comes to children, a rule of thumb is that if they’re playing and have energy, there’s no immediate danger.
When fever-related symptoms are making you feel lousy or the temperature has crept up near that 103-104 F mark, an over-the-counter fever-reducing medication like Tylenol (acetaminophen).
Motrin/Advil (ibuprofen) can help you feel better. The effects of these medications are only temporary, though. They work for 4 to eight hours then wear off, meaning your fever may come and you will got to take more.
This doesn’t mean something is wrong or that it didn’t work. Children and teenagers should not be given aspirin for fever due to the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare and serious illness that causes brain and liver damage.
Rest and many liquids can help your body weather the fever (and underlying illness), as well. Other home remedies may help, but you need to know which ones are safe and effective, and which ones are potentially harmful.
Safe (and not) Fever Home Remedies
Treatment by Temperature
For most adults and older children, symptoms are a better indicator of when it’s a problem than the number on the thermometer.
Still, it’s good to stay an eye fixed on how high the fever gets.
With children under 3 years aged, and particularly with babies, it pays to be more cautious and know what the precise temperature is. Fever in very young children is often a symbol that something serious is wrong, so it should not be ignored. Your pediatrician should have an on-call number so you can get advice at any time, or, in some cases, you may want to go straight to the emergency room.
If your fever is caused by an infection, it won’t get away until the infection is gone or a minimum of improves. Depending on the specific pathogen, this may require medical treatment.
If your fever doesn’t get away or is amid other symptoms that suggest illness, you ought to see a doctor. If you rush to your doctor’s office, urgent care, or the ER for fever treatment, you can expect medications and testing to figure out what’s causing the elevated temperature.
A Word From Very-well
Adults are typically better able to determine when our symptoms are making us feel so bad that we need to seek medical treatment, but if you aren’t sure, evaluate what is going on.
Learn how to check your cold and flu symptoms, evaluate a fever, and know the situations when you should see a doctor for a fever.