Fever, as everyone knows, is the elevation of the body temperature as a result of
release of certain mediators in response to an infection/injury/insult. Fever is
invariably accompanied by sweating, a feeling of being sick, lack of interest in work and
loss of appetite etc. Fever being a manifestation of the body's fight against an 'enemy,'
as far as possible it should not be or need not be 'treated'. However, when fever itself
becomes a problem, as when it causes a lot of discomfort , induces vomiting or seizures,
it must be brought down.
Bathing for a febrile patient should be viewed from two angles. One, bath as a
treatment for reducing the elevated temperature and two, bath as a regular, cleansing act.
Tepid sponging is a time honoured and well known method of reducing the elevated
temperature. Tepid sponging is useful as an immediate but transient measure in bringing
down the temperature and it should always be supplemented with drugs like paracetamol for
a longer antipyretic effect1. Studies have shown no significant differences in patient
groups treated with antipyretics compared to those treated with placebo2 even with regard
to outcome. There is no hard evidence to suggest that reduction of temperature by tepid
sponging adversely affects the disease process. But tepid sponging is sometimes
as a discomfort, especially by children3,4 and it may not be ideal for patients under
intensive care, as it may induce vasoconstriction and shivering5). As against tepid
sponging, cold sponging can cause constriction of the cutaneous vessels and may even
increase the core temperature. Therefore, tepid sponging (and not cold sponging) can be
used as a method of reducing temperature, but it can cause some discomfort to the
patients, specially children.
Coming to bathing as a regular, cleansing activity, it can be said that bathing with
luke warm water need not be discouraged in febrile patients. To reduce the level of
discomfort, they can be advised to have their bath whenever the temperature has settled
down from its peak. Bathing with luke warm water will certainly help in reducing the stink
of sweat and will give some freshness. Bathing at the height of fever, particularly with
cold water, is probably not advisable. Also patients who are sick, bed ridden and elderly
may be given a warm sponge bath and a regular bath or cold sponging is not advisable in
Aksoylar S et al. Evaluation of sponging and antipyretic medication to reduce body temperature in febrile
children. Acta Paediatr Jpn. 1997 Apr;39(2):215-7
Kramer MS et al. Risks and benefits of paracetamol antipyresis
in young children with fever of presumed viral origin. Lancet 1991 Mar 9;337(8741):591-4
Corrard F. Thermal comfort and fever or research on how to feel better.
Sharber J. The efficacy of tepid sponge bathing to reduce fever in young children
Emerg Med. 1997 Mar;15(2):188-92
Shackell S. Cooling hyperthermic and hyperpyrexic patients in intensive care.
Care 1996 Nov-Dec;1(6):278-82