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Many people wonder what the difference between a cold, flu and fever is. A cold is generally just a runny nose, sore throat and a really miserable week or so. A fever occurs when the body temperature rises above the normal average of 98.6 degrees. Fever is the bodies’ natural defence mechanism when fighting off infections and a fever could be a symptom of almost any underlying disease. Illnesses such as colds and flu are caused by viral infections and the resulting fever is simply a sign that the immune system is working properly. The most common way to determine whether you have a fever or not is to take your temperature with a thermometer placed underneath the tongue, or under the arm.
Symptoms of fevers can include chills, aching muscles, red cheeks, shaking and feeling either very hot or very cold. Generally, the body will shiver when a fever is rising, and sweat when the fever is ‘breaking.’
The internal cause of a fever is a circulation process - the blood system produces white blood cells to fight off an infection, and as the white blood cells increase in number to fight germs, they speed up and travel faster, generating the heat which causes the body to heat up as well - and ultimately, creates a fever. Physicians often contend that fever is a good thing because it does the job of fighting infection, and that it is not a good idea to rapidly reduce the temperature in someone who has a fever. Fevers can also occur in other conditions such as arthritis where the body produces defective white blood cells that cause fever but cannot do their job of fighting infection, as well as heat stroke, which causes fever because the body’s internal heat-regulation mechanism is overwhelmed and cannot function properly.
Treatment to bring a fever down is required when temperature goes above 104 degrees. Common over the counter treatments to reduce fevers include aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen. A fever that is too high can cause damage to the central nervous system, making it very important to treat high fevers in young children who are still developing. Other non-medicinal ways to treat a fever can include a cold compress to the head, drinking plenty of liquids, a tepid sponge bath and avoiding alcohol which can cause dehydration.