What Is a Low-Grade Fever? Causes, Signs, Treatment

Achy, tired, warm skin, and just not feeling right? You may have a low-grade fever. Before you figure out how to treat your low-grade fever, understand where it might have come from and what role it plays in your body.

Your body is a complex and smart system that constantly works to keep you feeling your best, including maintaining the optimum internal temperature. Your internal temperature is subject to hormonal and brain activity and adapts to conditions of your environment. For your body to work properly, your optimum body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C).1 Sometimes, though, your body needs to elevate its temperature above that ideal level to, for example, fight off a cold or flu virus. In those cases, you might experience a low-grade fever.

Fevers are common, and they occur for a variety of reasons, often signaling that the body is working to protect itself.2,4,5

Fevers happen for a variety of reasons and at different severity levels. Depending on your specific temperature, your fever may be categorized as low-grade fever, regular fever, or high-grade fever. The use of these terms highlights the importance of monitoring a fever.

What is a Low-Grade Fever?

A low-grade fever refers to a temperature slightly above what is considered a normal temperature. There is no standard for the specific temperature range corresponding to low-grade fever.

Regardless of the specific range that may be used to define a low-grade fever, the unifying factor for all low-grade fevers is that they represent temperatures above the ideal temperature but below what would be considered a fever.8

Some experts define a low-grade fever as a temperature that falls between 99.5°F (37.5°C) and 100.3°F (38.3°C).6,7 According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person with temperature at or above 100.4°F (38°C) is considered to have a fever.3

What Causes a Low-Grade Fever?

Low-grade fevers can occur for several reasons and may be accompanied by other symptoms.9 Colds and flus, for instance, are major contributors to fevers. Fevers occur more often in those who suffer from flus than in those who suffer from colds.10 However, fevers that occur in colds are more likely to be low-grade fevers, whereas fevers that occur with the flu can be low-grade or more severe.

Signs and Symptoms of Low-Grade Fever

The easiest way to determine if you have a low-grade fever—or any fever—is to simply take your temperature. However, in addition to a raised temperature, there are other signs of fever, like:3

  • Warm skin
  • A flushed face
  • Glassy eyes
  • Chills or Shivering
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Muscle Aches

Depending on the underlying cause of the low-grade fever, the fever may also present with other symptoms, such as symptoms that commonly occur with fever-causing viruses like colds and flus. These symptoms—which may include coughs, sore throats, headaches, or other symptoms—can be used to help determine the reason for the fever and the best way to treat it.

How to Treat a Low-Grade Fever

The recommendations for treating a fever vary, and in the case of a low-grade fever, there are several things you can do to make yourself feel better if you are uncomfortable.11 Some of these options are to:

  • Rest12
  • Drink fluids12
  • Call a doctor if your fever is accompanied by a severe headache, stiff neck, shortness of breath, or other unusual signs or symptoms.
  • Place a cold, damp washcloth on your forehead or the back of your neck while you’re resting.
  • Take over-the-counter medication to treat the symptoms associated with your fever. Many over-the-counter cold and flu medicines treat multiple symptoms. Identify what other symptoms you are experiencing with a low-grade fever, if any, so you can choose a medicine that gives the relief you need. Medicines that contain acetaminophen help reduce fever. Some medicines with this active ingredient include:
    • DayQuil and NyQuil: These liquid multi-symptom products also treat symptoms associated with the cold or flu, like cough, sore throat, and more. They also come in LiquiCap™ form.
    • DayQuil and NyQuil SEVERE: For relief of even more symptoms, try NyQuil SEVERE, which can also help with nasal congestion, or DayQuil SEVERE, which contains an expectorant to help loosen mucus and make coughs more productive.
    • DayQuil and NyQuil Hot Remedy: Drink tasty honey lemon flavor and breathe in the soothing Vicks Vapors. Cold and flu symptom relief—including fever—can come as a comforting medicated hot drink, too.

Consult your doctor if you are experiencing any of the below:13

  • If your temperature reaches 104° F or higher.
  • If you have fever or cough symptoms that improve, then get worse.
  • If your fever is accompanied by a severe muscle pain, mental confusion, or any other out-of-the ordinary symptoms.

Low-grade fevers can come from common viruses like a cold or the flu. Taking your temperature is the easiest and most direct way to determine if you have a low-grade fever, but other signs and symptoms can also point to an increased likelihood that you are experiencing a low-grade fever.

Maintaining your health through good habits such as getting enough rest and fluids can help to minimize a fever or to reduce its duration by, for instance, supporting your immune system. In the case that you opt for medication to help relieve symptoms and reduce a low-grade fever, consider appropriate options that contain acetaminophen, a fever reducer, like DayQuil or NyQuil.

Take care of yourself, and feel better soon!

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