Understanding Fever: Symptoms, Causes, and When to Seek Emergency Care

What is a Fever?

A fever is a temporary increase in body temperature, typically in response to an infection or illness. It is usually considered a symptom rather than a standalone condition. A fever is defined by a body temperature above the normal range. A low-grade fever is under 100.4°F (38°C), and a typical fever may be between 100.4°F (38°C) and 102.2°F (39°C). A fever characterized by a temperature of over 102.2°F (39°C) or higher represents a significant elevation in temperature and may need more urgent treatment.

Fever is a crucial component of the body’s defense mechanism against infections. By elevating the temperature, the body creates an environment less favorable for the replication of these pathogens. While a fever may signal an ongoing battle within the body, it is a defense mechanism working in favor of the individual.

Symptoms

Fever symptoms can vary among individuals, but common signs include:

  • Chills, feeling cold, shivering, and shaking
  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue 
  • On and off or constant sweating
  • Flushed complexion or hot skin
  • Faster heart beats
  • Sweating
  • Low appetite
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Lack of energy and feeling sleepy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Dehydration
  • Weakness

For babies and children, additional symptoms may include:

  • Lack of appetite 
  • Earache or pulling at their ears
  • Flushed cheeks
  • Fussiness
  • Feeling hot to the touch
  • Sweaty or clammy skin

At What Point Should You Go to the ER for a Fever?

Depending on your age and risk factors, there are different signs to look out for when deciding whether to visit the ER for a fever. Fevers are never normal, and you should always take the opportunity to figure out what is causing them. In general, if you are an adult, you should seek medical attention if you ever experiencing a temperature of 102°F or higher, or if you have a fever or any amount and one of the following symptoms:

  • Fever lasting more than five days
  • Seizures
  • Rash
  • Persistent headache
  • Breathing problems
  • Urination problems
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Over 65 years of age
  • Immunocompromised
  • Potential exposure to COVID-19

For babies and children, consider emergency care if they exhibit:

  • Sluggishness or drowsiness beyond what is typical
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessive drooling or difficulty swallowing
  • Continuous crying
  • Confusion
  • Stiff neck
  • Rash
  • Difficulty or fast breathing
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Redness or swelling
  • Dehydration
  • Decreased urination
  • Seizures or convulsions

Causes

Fevers can result from various causes and illnesses, including:

  • Infections (bacterial, viral, fungal)
  • Vaccinations
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Heat-related conditions
  • Certain medications
  • COVID-19

Treatment

When managing a fever, it’s essential to focus on relieving symptoms and addressing the underlying cause. Recommended measures include:

  • Rest: Allow the body to recover by getting adequate rest.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help reduce fever and alleviate discomfort.
  • Antibiotics: If the fever stems from a bacterial infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotics.
  • Maintain Comfortable Temperature: Stay in a room with a comfortable temperature to avoid overheating.

It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized advice and treatment options based on the specific circumstances surrounding the fever.

What to Expect When Visiting the ER for a Fever

If you or a loved one is experiencing a fever and requires a visit to the emergency room (ER), it is crucial to understand what awaits you during your visit.

Examination

Upon arrival, your healthcare provider will conduct a comprehensive physical examination. The purpose of this examination is to pinpoint the possible underlying cause of the fever and any accompanying symptoms.

Tests & Diagnostics

The treatment you receive will depend on factors like how long the fever has been present and what’s causing it. To help make an accurate diagnosis, your healthcare team may conduct several tests, including:

  • Blood tests: A complete blood count (CBC) or white blood cell differential can provide valuable information about the presence of infection and the body’s immune response.
  • Urinalysis: This test examines the urine for signs of infection or other abnormalities.
  • Chest X-ray: This imaging test allows healthcare providers to visualize the structures inside the chest, helping identify potential causes of the fever, such as pneumonia.

In addition to these tests, certain healthcare providers, like TotalCare, may utilize advanced tools like the BioFire® Respiratory 2.1 (RP2.1) Panel. This panel is a special test that can quickly identify various respiratory infections, including COVID-19, influenza, RSV, and many others. The BioFire RP2.1 Panel uses a syndromic approach, meaning it checks for multiple pathogens at once, providing comprehensive and rapid results in about 45 minutes.

If you find yourself at the TotalCare ER with a fever, know that your healthcare team has the ability to swiftly and accurately identify the cause of your symptoms, guiding them in providing you with the best possible care.