In most adults, an oral temperature above 100.4°F (38°C) or a rectal or ear temperature above 101°F (38.3°C) is considered a fever. A child has a fever when his or her rectal temperature is 100.4°F (38°C) or higher.
What can cause a fever?
A fever may occur as a reaction to:
- Infection. This is the most common cause of a fever. Infections may affect the whole body or a specific body part (localized infection).
- Medicines, such as antibiotics, narcotics, barbiturates, antihistamines, and many others. These are called drug fevers. Some medicines, such as antibiotics, raise the body temperature directly. Other medicines interfere with the body's ability to readjust its temperature when other factors cause the temperature to rise.
- Severe trauma or injury, such as a heart attack, stroke, heat exhaustion or heatstroke, or burns.
- Other medical conditions, such as arthritis, hyperthyroidism, and even some cancers, such as leukemia, Hodgkin's lymphoma, and liver and lung cancer.
Can a low body temperature be dangerous?
An abnormally low body temperature (hypothermia) can be serious, even life-threatening. Low body temperature may occur from cold exposure, shock, alcohol or drug use, or certain metabolic disorders, such as diabetes or hypothyroidism. A low body temperature may also be present with an infection, particularly in newborns, older adults, or people who are frail. An overwhelming infection, such as sepsis, may also cause an abnormally low body temperature.
Heatstroke occurs when the body fails to regulate its own temperature and body temperature continues to rise. Symptoms of heatstroke include mental changes (such as confusion, delirium, or unconsciousness) and skin that is red, hot, and dry, even under the armpits.
Classic heatstroke can develop without exertion when a person is exposed to a hot environment and the body is unable to cool itself effectively. In this type of heatstroke, the body's ability to sweat and transfer the heat to the environment is reduced. A person with heatstroke may stop sweating. Classic heatstroke may develop over several days. Babies, older adults, and people who have chronic health problems have the greatest risk of this type of heatstroke.
Exertional heatstroke may develop when a person is working or exercising in a hot environment. A person with heatstroke from exertion may sweat profusely, but the body still produces more heat than it can lose. This causes the body's temperature to rise to high levels.
Both types of heatstroke cause severe dehydration and can cause body organs to stop functioning. Heatstroke is a life-threatening medical emergency requiring emergency medical treatment.