What is a fever?

A person has a fever when his or her body temperature is higher than normal. Having a fever is a sign that the person’s body is reacting to something unusual. Often, having a fever can be one of the symptoms of a virus or infection.1,2

The average normal body temperature for adults is 98.6 F (37 C). However, not everyone’s average normal temperature is exactly 98.6 F – it may actually be a little higher or lower than that. There are different kinds of fevers, depending on how much higher than normal the person’s temperature is. These ranges apply to adults:

  • Low grade fever – around 100 F to 101 F
  • High grade fever – around 102 F to 104 F
  • Dangerous fever – around 104 F and higher (if an adult has a fever in this range, they should seek medical help right away)

Symptoms of a fever

Depending on what is causing the fever – and how high it is - a person might have other symptoms as well. These can include1:

  • Sweating
  • Shivering/chills
  • Headache
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Feeling of weakness
  • Loss of appetite

High fevers can sometimes cause more dangerous symptoms, such as:

  • Having hallucinations (sensing something that is not really there)
  • Feeling confused
  • Feeling irritable
  • Seizures

Common fever causes with COPD?

For people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), fever is often linked to some kind of virus or infection in the respiratory system, such as3,4:

  • Cold
  • Acute bronchitis
  • Flu
  • Pneumonia

A cold is an infection that is caused by a virus. Symptoms of a cold usually come on slowly. A low-grade fever can be a symptom of a cold, but having a cold does not always include a fever. For people with COPD, developing a fever can be a sign that the cold is getting worse. When a cold gets worse, it can lead to a more serious infection.

Acute bronchitis is a respiratory infection caused by a bacteria or virus. It causes an inflammation of the airways, which makes it even more difficult to breathe for people with COPD. Having a low-grade fever is a symptom of acute bronchitis.

The influenza virus causes the flu. Having a fever is a common symptom of the flu. People with COPD should consult with their healthcare provider about how to treat their flu symptoms, including fever.

Pneumonia is a serious infection of the lungs, which can be dangerous for people with COPD. They should contact their healthcare provider if they have a fever with other symptoms of pneumonia, such as:

Fevers and flare ups

Respiratory infections are the most common cause of acute exacerbations for people with COPD. These are also called COPD attacks or “flare-ups.” A flare-up happens when COPD symptoms get much worse all of a sudden. These attacks can be dangerous and sometimes they have to be treated in the hospital.

Fevers are a common symptom of many types of respiratory infections. Because respiratory infections can often be the cause of COPD attacks, fevers can be a possible warning sign of a flare-up. But even though fevers can be a warning sign of a COPD attack, not all COPD attacks include fevers.

How are fevers treated?

How a fever is treated depends on what is causing it and how high the person’s temperature has risen. Sometimes it is better not to try to lower the fever because raising the body temperature is one of the body’s tools for fighting off infection.3

However, people with COPD sometimes need to receive treatment for a fever because their systems are weakened. Healthcare providers can provide advice about whether to treat the fever, its cause, or both. For instance, if the fever is caused by a respiratory infection, then antibiotics can treat the infection and lower the fever.

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Written by: Anna Nicholson | Last reviewed: July 2015.