According to Ayurvedic legend, Lord Shiva in his wrathful form as Rudra, gave birth to fever after a long spell of meditation. His focus had been disturbed by demons and in frustration he opened his third eye and burned them up with its laser-like beam. This points to the role of fever in burning up pathogens and other bodily burdens.
From the Ayurvedic perspective there are many different types of fever, depending upon the dosha involvement and the causative factors. However, unless your kiddo has been exposed to some fairly extreme conditions (ie: sunstroke, intense and variable wind), you can probably assume that the fever indicates an excess of kapha dosha. In other words, their body produced a fever in response to a digestive fire weakened by excess stickiness and heaviness (or pathogens which are taking up residence in excess stickiness). This is a little kid issue mostly because at their kapha-stage of life, they tend to have stickiness and goopiness in abundance. As with Rudra, their fever forms as the innate wisdom of their digestive fire, agni, and spreads through the body to digest this stuff mucking up the works (we call this gunk “ama”).
Fever is also common this time of year if there is some accumulated heat in the body from the summer. As the weather turns cooler and the circulation to the extremities becomes a bit more sluggish, the heat trapped inside seeks a way to leave the body. In this case, the fever is a dual issue of pitta and kapha.
We can (and should) let a fever run its course unless your little one:
-Is limp or unresponsive
-Is having trouble breathin
-Is vomiting and has a headache or a stiff neck or severe diarrhea
-Has blue lips or skin
-Has a seizure
-Is under 3 months and has a fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
-Is under 6 months and has a fever over 101 F (38.3 C)
-6 months-1 yr with a fever over 103 F (39.4 C)
-More than 1 yr old with a fever over 104 F (40 C)
-Has a fever which lasts for more than 24 hours
-Shows signs of dehydration such as not urinating, crying without tears, or a sunken soft-spot
There are some things we can do to support and rebuild agni as it works to burn through the excess. However, as ever, we must remember that there are no one-size-fits-all recommendations in Ayurveda. Trust your observations. Don’t be afraid to try something. Give it some time, but if it doesn’t seem to be working, take a different approach. If you ever feel in over your head or unsure what to do, seek the help of an experienced herbalist or doctor.
The Stages of Fever
In the beginning stages of fever, constricted blood vessels near the surface of the skin retain the heat in the body and allow the fever to mount. During this stage the skin may feel clammy and cold—the pre-fever “chills”. Nausea or a lack of interest in food also characterizes this period. Ginger tea or ½ tsp. of honey with a fat pinch each of ginger and black pepper (and pippali, or “long pepper,” if you have it) can help the body both by boosting agni a bit and by scraping built-up accumulations from the channels. Besides strengthening the agni’s capacity for digestion, dry ginger and pippali each have the special quality of doing some of the digesting of the ama themselves.
In the second stage, thirst increases and the heat flushes to the surface of the skin. The limbs feel hot to the touch and the heart and respiration rates increase. Be sure to keep your little patient hydrated and don’t expose their bodies to cold air or water. During this stage, the fever digests the ama (and/or pathogens) in the body. Achiness and fatigue will probably continue in this stage. Keep the room calm, quiet and low-lit. Offering lukewarm teas may also be helpful at this point. Some nice possibilities are listed in the next section.
In this stage, avoiding eating allows agni to stay concentrated on the task at hand. However, drinking a homemade chicken broth or the liquid portion of a rice soup can be helpful. Studies have shown that components in chicken broth (such as the amino acid cysteine) help break up and evacuate secretions and have anti-inflammatory properties. In addition, when prepared as a bone stock, chicken broth has a great variety of minerals.
If you choose to make a rice soup, simply cook 1/8 c. of rice in 1-2 c. of water until the rice is soft. Strain the liquid and add salt to taste. Adding small amounts of ginger or pepper may be useful for boosting agni, but be cautious if the surface heat or blood-pressure (a pounding headache may indicate high blood pressure) seems high. Add some turmeric for its anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, agni-increasing properties. Rice soup or “congee”, digests very easily and will help keep electrolytes balanced. As hunger starts to return, more of the rice itself can be left in the soup.
In the third stage of the process, the fever “breaks.” Profuse sweating (and often urinating) and usually some relief of joint pain as well as an increase in appetite indicate the arrival of this stage. The rice soup, lightly seasoned, or a chicken broth without much fat will both continue to support the body’s process.
After the fever has passed and the appetite returns, slowly resume normal eating, avoiding meat (except for bone broths) and dairy products for a few more days. If kiddo will eat it, congee or kitchari is the perfect meal for this recovery period.
Some Helpful Herbal Remedies
When giving your kiddo herbal remedies, exercise some caution. Everyone has a different level of sensitivity to herbs and sometimes the immune system just needs a tiny little boost to get back on track. For an adult, a normal dose of herbs in a hot infusion (tea) is about 1 oz. of dry (cut and sifted) herbs infused into 500 ml of hot water. This makes 2-4 doses which can be sipped throughout the day.
For little ones under 5 years old, I would suggest infusing ½ oz. of herbs into 500ml water. Then take 2 tsp. of the resulting tea and mix it into a small cup of warm water. Observe the results. Since we each have an individual pattern in our styles of getting sick, over time, you will learn which kind of herbs and what dose of herbs works for you and each of your family members.
Elderflower: Specifically febrifuge (that means it brings fever down), elderflower tea can be used carefully to manage the fever within a safe boundary.
Chamomile: this nerve-calming herb is also anti-inflammatory and slightly astringent, which means it will help to dry up stickiness in the body.
Meadowsweet: anti-inflammatory and soothing to the belly.
Yarrow: Helps to open the pores and induce sweating allowing the fever to “break”, it also soothes the belly.
Mahasudarshana: This powder mixture of herbs is very bitter. It is the classic fever-reducing remedy in Indian Ayurveda and is very effective for reducing pitta and kapha accumulations in the body and boosting the immune system response in general. It can also be used for vata-type fevers. I usually give my son a large pinch mixed into a ¼ tsp. honey 3 times a day at all stages of illness. You can order it from Vadik Herbs. (Mahasudarshana is also a potent breast-milk purifier–it can be extremely helpful for mama to take it when a nursing baby exhibits signs of dullness, excess spitting up, and white, itchy skin outbreaks).
If you want to get a bit fancier: especially if the fever recurs and you can’t seem to get at the root of it—you may want to try something a bit deeper acting. Here is a recipe for an Ayurvedic decoction that is excellent for pretty much any kind of fever, in any stage (you can order these herbs through Banyan Botanicals):
-5 g Guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia-Caulis)—a classic Ayurvedic febrifuge and ama digester
-20g Dashamula (a combination of ten roots)—an extremely potent anti-inflammatory which helps root the energy in the body down towards the earth
Combine the herbs (in powder or cut and sifted form) with 200 ml of water. Simmer over medium-low heat until the volume reduces to 50 ml. Filter out the herb matter and take in a dose of 10-20 ml (for and adult), 5-10 ml (for a child between 1-5) twice a day before food. If you are breast-feeding, you can offer a small amount to baby, but take the full dose yourself. Baby will get it through your milk.
This decoction can be used for all types of fever in all types of constitutions.
This decoction should not be kept and used for more than 12 hours. If it is not used up in one day, throw it away and make it fresh, if needed, the next day.