One of the most common misconceptions about health and illness – one that even doctors and scientists can have at times – is that suppressing symptoms is the same thing as curing an illness. Indeed, it seems obvious that when symptoms are gone, the illness is gone. So we put our efforts into quashing symptoms, even though this can have the effect of pushing illness deeper into the body.
Symptoms are not the illness itself. They are signs of illness. More specifically, they are signs of the body’s defenses at work. For your body is a self-regulating organism, constantly adapting and working to stay in balance – to maintain a state of homeostasis (literally, the state of staying the same).
Consider the case of body temperature. When we’re healthy, our internal temperature stays right around 98.6 °F. But when we succumb to, say, a virus, we develop a fever.
As recently reported in the Wall Street Journal, a fever is not an illness but an infection-fighting response by the body. Fever forces us to slow down and rest so that our bodies can focus on healing and rejuvenating. Although many often look to medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen at the first sign of fever, doctors are suggesting that this may in fact prevent the body from healing as effectively and quickly as it would like to.
Chicago Healers Practitioner Dr. Helen Lee explains some of the benefits of fevers and natural ways to stay comfortable during fever.
Increased body temperature directly kills bacteria, viruses and other harmful microbes
Increases production of infection-fighting white blood cells
Stimulates antibody production which strengthens the immune system against future attacks
Not all fevers should be “sweated out,” though. Although standards differ from person to person, the following guidelines should help you know when it’s time to consult a healthcare professional.
Infants 3 months and younger with fever above 100.4 °F
Children 3-36 months with fever greater than 102.2 °F who appear ill
Any fever above 104.5 °F
Persistent vomiting, confusion, lethargy, extreme stiffness or pain in the neck or seizures