Fever: causes and symptoms
A mild fever often accompanies a viral infection such as influenza, or sometimes the common cold. Fever with a headache and nasal congestion may indicate sinusitis, while fever with a rash may indicate measles. Other symptoms of a viral infection include aching muscles and feeling generally unwell. A number of medicines (for example, some antibiotics, antihistamines or quinine) may also cause fever.
Fever can have a positive role as part of the body’s defence against some infections. Most mild fevers are self-limiting, and will clear up of their own accord.
What can you do to help?
You can help to reduce fever by:
- taking a cool bath or using a cool compress;
- wearing light clothing and keeping bedding light;
- drinking plenty of water or rehydration fluid, as fever can cause dehydration; and
- taking a fever-reducing medication such as paracetamol.
When should you seek medical attention?
You should seek medical attention for fever in the following instances.
- The fever is accompanied by a stiff neck, headache, sensitivity to light, irritability or vomiting, as this may indicate meningitis.
- The fever is accompanied by a painful, persistent sore throat.
- The fever is accompanied by diarrhoea, as this may be a sign of an infection, particularly if you have been overseas recently.
- You are very unwell, lethargic or delirious.
- You experience heavy sweating at night.
- The fever is very high (above 39°C).
- The fever has lasted more than 48 hours.
- The fever is in a young child, especially an infant. The younger the child, the more likely it is that the fever is associated with a bacterial infection.
Last Reviewed: 12 July 2001