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What Is an Antipyretic?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An antipyretic is a drug or herb that lowers fever, or pyrexia. The most common examples of these are over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen (paracetamol), ibuprofen, and aspirin, which come in a variety of forms. There are also many herbal remedies that have fever-reducing properties, and similar action to manufactured drugs. Presently, the medical community continues to debate the benefits of antipyretics.

Most antipyretic drugs reduce fevers by acting on chemicals in the body like interleukin, which signal the hypothalamus to increase temperature. They tend to only be effective when an actual fever is present, and they don’t lower the body temperature if it is in normal range. This is helpful because many antipyretics have other functions, such as providing pain relief or decreasing inflammation.

As stated, the best known antipyretic medicines are acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Usually, these medications are easy to find at pharmacies or grocery stores, and they come in a variety of forms, like pills, liquids, and suppositories. Not every person benefits from every drug. Children and people with certain stomach conditions shouldn’t use an antipyretic like aspirin. Ibuprofen can also irritate the stomach lining, and acetaminophen isn’t a good choice for alcoholics or patients with liver dysfunction.

Some other drugs or substances have antipyretic benefits, but they aren’t used as often to reduce fever. These include quinine, which is more likely to be taken to treat malaria. Many of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), a class that includes aspirin and acetaminophen, fight fevers but are principally prescribed for pain and inflammation, instead.

There is also an extensive list of herbal remedies for fever, comprising over 50 compounds. Included among these are yarrow, catnip, ginger and feverfew. Other suggested antipyretic herbs are meadowsweet, echinacea, fenugreek, and golden seal.

Both in herbal lore and traditional medicine, there exists a question about whether antipyretics should be used. Sometimes a fever is so high that it ought to be lowered immediately. Particularly in infants less than seven weeks old, a fever that exceeds 101 ° F (38.33 ° C) needs emergency care. Babies who are eight weeks to three months old should be treated with an antipyretic and see a doctor within a few hours of developing a fever this high.

Generally, in older kids and adults, there is no need to treat a fever that is less than 102 ° F (38.89 ° C). It’s important to watch a temperature to make sure it doesn’t climb. Most medical experts, though, point to the beneficial nature of fever in fighting an infection, and they’re inclined to argue that an antipyretic is only beneficial for a person who is uncomfortable. In other words, the use of antipyretics isn’t always appropriate, especially if a fever is mild.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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