The term “chills” refers to a feeling of being cold without an apparent cause. You get this feeling when your muscles repeatedly expand and contract and the vessels in your skin constrict. Chills can occur with a fever and cause shivering or shaking.
Your body chills can be constant. Each episode can last for as long as an hour. Your chills can also occur periodically and last for several minutes.
Some chills occur after exposure to a cold environment. They can also occur as a response to a bacterial or viral infection that causes a fever. Chills are commonly associated with the following conditions:
- bacterial or viral gastroenteritis
- strep throat
- urinary tract infections (UTIs)
If you or your child has a fever with chills, there are some things you can do at home for comfort and relief. Keep reading to learn how to treat a fever with chills and when you should call a doctor.
Home care for adults
Treatment is usually based on whether your chills are accompanied by a fever and the severity of the fever. If your fever is mild and you have no other serious symptoms, you don’t have to see a doctor. Get plenty of rest and drink plenty of liquids. A mild fever is 101.4°F (38.6°C) or less.
Cover yourself with a light sheet and avoid heavy blankets or clothing, which can raise your body temperature. Sponging your body with lukewarm water or taking a cool shower may help reduce a fever. Cold water, however, may trigger an episode of chills.
Over-the-counter (OTC) medications can lower a fever and fight chills, such as:
- aspirin (Bayer)
- acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- ibuprofen (Advil)
As with any medication, carefully follow the instructions and take them as directed. Aspirin and ibuprofen will lower your fever and reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen will bring down a fever, but it won’t reduce inflammation. Acetaminophen can be toxic to your liver if it isn’t taken as directed and long-term use of ibuprofen can cause kidney and stomach damage.
Home care for children
Treating a child with chills and fever depends on the child’s age, temperature, and any accompanying symptoms. In general, if your child’s fever is between 100ºF (37.8°C) and 102ºF (38.9°C) and they’re uncomfortable, you can give them acetaminophen in tablet or liquid form. It’s important to follow the dosing instructions on the package.
Never bundle feverish children in heavy blankets or layers of clothing. Dress them in lightweight clothing and give them water or other liquids to keep them hydrated.
Never give aspirin to children under the age of 18 because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious disorder that can develop in children who are given aspirin while fighting a viral infection.
Call your doctor if your fever and chills don’t improve after 48 hours of home care or if you have any of the following symptoms:
- stiff neck
- severe coughing
- shortness of breath
- abdominal pain
- painful urination
- frequent urination or lack of urination
- forceful vomiting
- unusual sensitivity to bright light
According to the Mayo Clinic, you should call your child’s doctor in the case of any of the following:
- a fever in a child younger than 3 months old
- a fever in a child age 3 to 6 months, and the child is lethargic or irritable
- a fever in a child age 6 to 24 months that lasts longer than one day
- a fever in a child age 24 months to 17 years that lasts longer than three days and doesn’t respond to treatment
Your doctor will ask questions about your chills and fever, including:
- Do the chills make you shake, or do you only feel cold?
- What was your highest body temperature that was accompanied by chills?
- Have you had chills just once or have you had repeated episodes of chills?
- How long did each episode of chills last?
- Did the chills begin after exposure to an allergen, or did they begin suddenly?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
Your doctor will perform a physical examination and possibly run diagnostic tests to see if a bacterial or viral infection is causing your fever. Diagnostic tests may include a:
- blood test, including a blood culture to detect bacteria or fungi in the blood
- sputum culture of secretions from the lungs and bronchi
- chest X-ray to detect pneumonia, tuberculosis, or other infections
Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if you’re diagnosed with a bacterial infection, such as strep throat or pneumonia.
Chills and fever are signs that something is wrong. If chills and fever persist after treatment, see your doctor to determine the underlying cause.
If a fever goes untreated, you may experience severe dehydration and hallucinations. Children ages 6 months to 5 years may also have fever-induced seizures, which are known as febrile seizures. These seizures don’t typically cause long-term health problems.