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11 Things You Should Never Do When You Have a Fever

Be your own best ally in helping your body fight off an infection.
Close up Bare Young Woman Reacting While Taking Cold Shower with Arms Crossing Over her Chest and Eyes Closed.

A fever—defined as a temporary increase in body temperature over 98.6 Fahrenheit—is a common sign of illness. But recently, this bodily signal has attracted uncommon attention: It can be a sign of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. It can also signify something less serious, like a common flu. No matter what the origin, these are the best practices you should follow if you develop a fever. (And always contact your healthcare provider if your fever is over 103 F, or if you have concerns.)

1

Don't Drink Certain Beverages

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"Alcohol, soda and caffeinated drinks should be avoided when you have a fever," says Pauline J. Jose, MD, a specialist in family medicine with pH Labs. "They can cause dehydration when we really need to hydrate most."

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2

Don't Overheat

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"Do not overdress or put yourself in a place that is too hot," says physician Dr. Dimitar Marinov, MD, Ph.D. "This can disturb the thermoregulation of the body and make your fever worse."

3

Don't Double Up Your Medications

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"Acetaminophen is generally an effective drug for treating fever, however, exceeding the recommended dosage can lead to serious damage to your liver and even death," says Marinov.

The Rx: Adults shouldn't take more than 1,000 mg of acetaminophen at once; the daily limit is 2,000 mg. For children, the dosage should be even lower—follow directions on the package carefully.

4

Don't Starve

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"The old saying 'Feed a cold, starve a fever' is wrong and dangerous," says Marinov. "Fever speeds up your metabolism and you need even more calories from food. Starving can literally cripple your immune system."

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5

Don't Forget To Drink Water

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"A fever will increase the respiratory rate, and therefore water loss, and sweating increases in order to lower the body temperature," says Ralph E. Holsworth, DO, director of clinical and scientific research with Essentia Water. "Moreover, water intake is commonly decreased during a fever, which will ultimately aggravate dehydration."

The Rx: It's important to stay hydrated, so be sure to drink plenty of water. According to WebMD, the recommended daily fluid intake for men is 13 cups (about 3 liters) and 9 cups (a little over 2 liters) for women. 

6

Don't Give Children Aspirin

Baby Aspirin Compress Tablets.
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"Adults can take aspirin, but there is a possibility that giving aspirin to children or teenagers when they have a viral infection could lead to a potentially fatal condition called Reye's Syndrome," says Leann Poston, MD, a physician with Invigor Medical in New York. Reye's Syndrome is a rare disorder that causes brain and liver damage. It is most often seen in children, though it can happen at any age. 

The Rx: Aim for over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve), according to WebMD

7

Don't Deprive Yourself Of Sleep

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Your immune system consumes plenty of energy trying to fight off infection during the day. When you're asleep, the body has time to recover that energy. Not sleeping can prolong an illness. 

The Rx: Get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep each night to ensure proper rest and time to heal. 

8

Don't Continue Your Normal Activities

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"A fever usually is an indicator that you are ill. It takes a lot of energy for the body to fight infection," says Poston. "Diverting that energy to other activities can make it more difficult to fight off the infection."

The Rx: Stay home until you've been fever-free for at least 24 hours. Be sure to get plenty of rest and fluids.

9

Don't Take A Cold Bath/Shower

Close up Bare Young Woman Reacting While Taking Cold Shower with Arms Crossing Over her Chest and Eyes Closed.
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Although cold water can lower your temperature in the short term, it can lead to shivering. "Muscles shiver to raise your body temperature to the new point set by the hypothalamus," says Poston. "A cold bath is dreadfully uncomfortable and will cause the muscles to shiver and cramp even more to try to raise the temperature again."

The Rx: Try a sponge bath with warm water instead. Your body will begin to cool as the water evaporates. Stop or increase water temperature if you start to shiver.

10

Don't Automatically Take Medication To Reduce Your Fever

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"A fever is a symptom, not a disease. It is your body's response to infection," says Poston. "If you are comfortable with a temperature of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or so, it may be better not to take medication to decrease the temperature because you are countering the body's attempt to slow down the replication of the viruses or bacteria."

11

Don't Assume You Have COVID-19

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"There are many other possible explanations, both viral and bacterial" for a fever, says Poston. "Consult with a medical professional if you are concerned about your symptoms, regardless if they are consistent with COVID-19 or not."

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 40 Things You Should Never Touch Due to Coronavirus.

Emilia Paluszek
Emilia specializes in human biology and psychology at the University at Albany. Read more