Viral fever is a rise in body temperature due to a viral infection. Though anyone can get a viral fever, children and old people are more prone to it as their immune system is typically weaker than that of younger adults.

We have all had fever many times since we were children, but the COVID-19 pandemic has lent all-new attention to fever and how we react to it.

Our body temperature is controlled by a part of your brain called the hypothalamus. It works like a thermostat: when we are healthy, the hypothalamus sets our body to a normal body temperature of about 37°C. But when we’re sick with an infection, our immune system releases chemicals that make the hypothalamus reset your body to a higher temperature.

Fever is extremely common. It is the body’s way of fighting infections. There are some tried-and-tested methods to control fever at home. Some of them are mentioned here:

  • Stay hydrated: Having a fever can also cause your body to become dehydrated, which is why drinking plenty of fluids is important if you're running a temperature. The key is to replenish lost fluids. Drinking water is a good option, but a bowl of broth or soup can also be beneficial.
  • Avoid the heat: There’s always the possibility of feeling cold or getting chills with fever. But it is important to resist the urge to get under the covers. People can reduce their body temperature by moving to an area with a cooler external temperature. The body will lose heat by convection.
  • Rest: The body releases heat as it moves. To help your body cool down, the wise thing to do is rest and wait for the fever to pass. Movement can further increase your body temperature.
    Your body also uses up a lot of energy to fight the infection. That is why you feel so tired when you're sick. It is a good idea to sleep and let the body devote its energies to fighting the infection. 
  • Wear light clothes: Remove any restrictive piece of clothing. Heat passes more easily through natural fabrics, such as cotton and linen, allowing heat to escape from the body more easily than in synthetic fabrics such as acrylic and nylon.
  • Apply a washcloth to your head, neck and wrists: Dip a clean handkerchief in cold water and apply it on your forehead and other strategic points on the body where the veins are close to the surface—such as the wrists, neck, chest. This can quickly lower the temperature of the blood running through these veins and allow the body to feel cooler.

There is generally no point in taking antibiotics for viral fever unless your doctor suggests it. And while having a temperature is normal, you should seek immediate medical attention if the following things happen:

  • Your body temperature is 40°C or higher
  • Your fever does not improve even after three days
  • You feel confused or are unable to stay awake
  • You have symptoms such as hallucinations, vomiting, neck stiffness, skin rash, rapid heartbeat or muscle spasms
  • Severe pain anywhere in your body (including severe headache)
  • Swelling or inflammation anywhere in your body

Read this article for more detailed tips on what to do in viral fever, what not to do and when to see a doctor.

  1. What to do in viral fever
  2. What not to do in viral fever
  3. When to see a doctor for viral fever

Fever is not a disease per se, but a symptom. It is often accompanied by other symptoms such as fatigue, chills, diarrhoea, body ache, weakness and headache. In rare cases, very high fever can also lead to complications like coma, epilepsy and kidney failure, etc.

While there is no cure for viral fever, it is possible to manage some of the symptoms at home. Here are a few things you can try to control or reduce the fever:

  • Taking adequate rest is the most important remedy when you have a viral fever: it allows your body to pour all its strength into fighting the infection.
  • Gargling with warm salt water two to three times a day can offer some relief if you have symptoms like sore throat and throat pain.
  • Using a decongestant may help with a blocked nose (nasal congestion) or a runny nose.
  • You can also use zinc-based nasal spray and lozenges to relieve nose and throat symptoms, but be careful to use these sparingly.
  • Drink lots of fluids.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes made with natural fabrics like cotton or muslin.
  • Steam inhalation can also provide relief from a blocked nose and pain or pressure around the nose and eyes. You can take steam two to three times a day for 10-15 minutes.
  • Using a humidifier in the room can also bring relief from symptoms such as congestion.
  • Making an infusion tea with tulsi leaves could ease the throat and settle the stomach. Simply boil the leaves in clean water. You can also put cloves in the tea. Let the mixture simmer until it reduces to half the original volume. Sip slowly.
  • Drink a soup made with chicken or your favourite vegetables or lentils to get energy and fluids into your body. Warm soup with black pepper could also soothe the throat. You can also drink bone broth.
  • You can take over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol to reduce the fever if need be. However, remember that you can't give aspirin to children without the recommendation of your doctor.
  • Rice water is another nutritious drink when you have a viral fever. Drink this especially if you have gastrointestinal issues like diarrhoea or vomiting. The soup will help prevent dehydration. Remember to also take oral rehydration salt solution throughout the day if you have loose motions along with the fever.
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Antibiotics deactivate or kill bacteria. They are not effective against viruses. So don't take antibiotics against a viral fever, unless your doctor prescribes it for a secondary infection or some other reason.

Do not over-exert. Your body needs rest at this time. Try to sleep to speed up your recovery.

Do not go out—even to the office or school—if you have a viral fever. Many viruses can jump from one person to another, and you could pass on the infection to your friends and colleagues.

Avoid alcohol and coffee as these may cause dehydration. Instead, sip on water, kadha, fruit juices, soups throughout the day.

Don't skip meals, and don't eat spicy and fried foods either. Viral fever can give you a bad taste in the mouth—literally. It can also affect your appetite. But it is important that you eat nutritious foods at regular intervals. (Try drinking mosambi juice or sugarcane juice, or eating vegetable soup or bone broth, when you don't feel like eating anything else.)

If you smoke cigarettes, try to quit or at least cut back during this time, as cigarette smoke can irritate your throat further. (Read more: How to quit smoking)

Typically viral fever subsides on its own in a few days. See your doctor if:

For fever in children, see a doctor:

  • If the child is under three months old and is running a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or more
  • If the child is between three and six months old and his or her body temperature is 102 degrees Fahrenheit or more
  • If the child is under six months old, has a fever and is irritable and sleepy
  • If the baby is aged six months to two years and is running a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for more than 24 hours. Also, see a doctor if the child has a fever along with diarrhoea or cough. Diarrhoea is three or more loose stools in a day—if you suspect diarrhoea, start giving the child ORS mixed in clean water as early as possible to avoid dehydration.
  • If the child is two years of age and has a fever along with other symptoms like a rash, lethargy, headache, stiff neck, irritability, listlessness (doesn't want to play or respond to things that normally get him or her excited), diarrhoea or vomiting.
  • If the child has a seizure (convulsions)
  • If the child's body temperature goes over 104 degrees Fahrenheit, rush to a hospital as fever this high may cause a seizure

Please note: First-aid should not be seen as an alternative to a doctor's visit. Some types of first-aid require prior training—please do not give first aid if you don't have adequate training in it. This article is for your information only.

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