The answer may surprise you. This is a question that has been asked in the medical literature for many years across many research studies. In general, they seem to be pretty equal in reducing a fever (called “antipyretic” therapy). But there is a question that is never, ever asked, and it’s the most critical…
Most parents are aware that you should never combine a fever and aspirin because of the danger of developing Reye’s Syndrome (a serious illness that can result in damage to the liver and brain when aspirin is taken for a viral illness; a fever may or may not be present). Because of this, most rely on acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen to lower a fever. When you watch the commercials for these products, you come away with the belief that only the most caring parents use over the counter children’s medications to lower their suffering child’s fever.
Of course, good luck trying to find one that does not contain more toxins than a superfund site. Artificial colors (really–who CARES what color it is??), artificial flavors (what happened to good ‘ole fashioned sugar?), sodium benzoate (for shelf life), propylene glycol (yes–it really IS used in antifreeze) and other chemicals. Just what you want to give a sick child.
But this all does not address the most critical concern of all..
Should we even lower a fever at all??
A few surprising medical facts:
- A febrile seizure is not induced by a high fever; rather, it is caused by a rapid rise in brain temperature that the body cannot cool fast enough. Antipyretic therapy does nothing to alter whether or not this is going to occur
- According to the National Institute of Health, brain damage does not occur until a shockingly high 107.5
- A fever is a normal response of the body, improving the way our immune system responds and inhibiting the ability of the infection to progress
So, the question that has NEVER been asked in the medical literature, at least not that I’ve ever been able to find, is whether lowering the fever prolongs the infection or increases the risk of greater complications from the infection. My personal opinion is that no one has ever asked the question because we really don’t want the answer–it’s going to cost an awful lot of money to companies that make drugs to lower a fever.
This particular review, which looked at multiple studies (researchers were unable to find any human studies, which again confirms my concern), starts to give us some insight into just how bad of an idea antipyretic therapy may be. The infection in question was pneumonia caused by the bacteria S. pneumoniae. The results?
The risk of dying was TWICE as high when antipyretic therapy was used (in this case, aspirin was used). Just how much does this correlate with what happens in humans? Again–there are no studies, but the concern is rising.