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nonexpert's avatar

Is there any truth to sweating out a flu?

Asked by nonexpert (563 points ) July 6th, 2012

My parents always used to tell me to “sweat it out” when it comes to a cold or flu. Does heating up your body temperature under many blankets or sheets actually shorten the duration of a sickness?

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37 Answers

cazzie's avatar

Only if your body does it in the form of a fever. However, loss of fluids will make you feel worse.

Our bodies produce a fever as part of its immune response. Fevers can get out of hand and need treating, but most fevers can be left to run their course. I believe it is actually good to leave fevers that remain under the limit of harm. (it is different for children and adults).

Trying to make your body heat up to get rid of a virus? I am not so sure about that one. I know I feel better after a sauna, but I make sure to drink plenty of water. Sweating through bedclothes does not appeal at all.

From the Medical Dictionary, under ‘Fever’. Fever is an important component of the immune response, though its role is not completely understood. Physicians believe that an elevated body temperature has several effects. The immune system chemicals that react with the fever-inducing agent and trigger the resetting of the thermostat also increase the production of cells that fight off the invading bacteria or viruses. Higher temperatures also inhibit the growth of some bacteria, while at the same time speeding up the chemical reactions that help the body’s cells repair themselves. In addition, the increased heart rate that may accompany the changes in blood circulation also speeds the arrival of white blood cells to the sites of infection.

JLeslie's avatar

Nio! “Sweating” out a fever can be downright dangerous. Fevers should be brought down,, and heating up the body more does the opposite. In fact when people get extremely high fevers like 104+ it is recommended to put them in a cool bath out bring the fever down fast. Not too cold or it can be shocking to the body, but cool bath. When a fever is moderate it can help to use a wet wash cloth to cool down the body, wiping down the forehead, legs, arms, and stomach.

Sometimes a person gets the chills with a fever, and wants to be covered up. That’s fine temporarily so the person can get comfortable, but medication should be given to reduce the fever.

One link here, there are a ton. I ran very high fevers as a child and still do. I would probably have brain damage if my mom had followed the formula of piling on blankets. I vividily remember one time when I had over 105 and my dad wrapping me in a cold yet towel with me screaming. I woke up one time sick in my bed as an infant with convulsions from fever (fairly common actually, they say about 50% of babies have convulsions at least onentime with fever). Sometimes out bodies do not stop the fighter cells and immune response well on its own. Think of it like a bee sting. Some people no big deal, others can die. My body reacts to certain bacterias and viruses too much andnthe fever goes too far.

JLeslie's avatar

Correction the 50% should be 5%.

flutherother's avatar

Flu and other viral infections are often accompanied by raised temperature (102 – 104F) This is part of the body’s response to the infection and does not need treatment. Most bacteria and viruses that cause infection thrive best at 98.6F and a raised temperature signals that a battle is going on in the body with the fever fighting for the person, not against. I wouldn’t deliberately try to raise body temperature however.

snowberry's avatar

I have successfully used sweats kill a low fever, but I would hesitate to do it for a high one. In a sweat, it’s absolutely necessary to remain hydrated at all times. If you have the kind of flu that makes you vomit and or have diarrhea, you had best find another way to do it.

JLeslie's avatar

By the way, most adults do not get a fever with a cold. Flu usually triggers high fevers; 102–103 is quite common.

Children get fevers with many types of infections.

I apologize for all my typos in my first answer.

@snowberry Why do it? Why try to sweat out a fever? I can’t see any point in it. Fever makes people feel miserable usually, and raising a temp from 101 to 103 is not going to kill off the infection any faster most likely. I do think some fever helps the healing process, I am not arguing people should try to get temperatures back down to 98.6, but most doctors advise doing what helps a patient feel comfortable. I don’t think any medical professional would advise purposely increasing a patients temperature to sweating out a fever.

filmfann's avatar

A cold, yes. The flu, no.

JLeslie's avatar

@Rarebear Thank you. I admittedly was having trouble stifling. I was about to stop following.

cazzie's avatar

@Rarebear, you agree, as a doctor, that doing this and causing your body to dehydrate is a bad idea, right? Keep warm, drink lots of fluids and watch for any onset of infections, don’t blow your nose hard. If you want to sweat a bit, eat some hot thai soup. That has always been my advice. Am I far off?

cazzie's avatar

@snowberry, likely, your fever was leaving anyway and ‘sweating it out’ was not the cause for the end of the fever. If you are on your own and your fever is rising, covering yourself with more blankets is rather risky. If you fever spikes, you can lose consciousness. Just, not that good an idea. Fevers need to be monitored, but not necessarily treated in a great panic, either, and not encouraged to rise, especially if you are home alone. (!)

I was so sick with a flu and fever once and living alone, that I called a neighbour to phone me at intervals to make sure I was OK. She came over with soup and books. She was awesome.

I was living with a guy once that came home with a really nasty virus. He sweated through the bed clothing a few times with his fever. I monitored him. He showered himself in a temperature of water that didn’t make him feel more sick in between, while I changed the bed, but with the chills, he felt like he wanted more blankets, but not to a degree where he was making himself hot to the point of increasing his fever.

I am absolutely NOT a doctor, but I am an old woman and mother with some experience with illness.

Rarebear's avatar

@cazzie Yes. Keep hydrated. Allowing your body to “sweat it out” will not result in any illness to get better more quickly. I like Thai soup.

snowberry's avatar

If you haven’t tried it, you don’t know what it’s like. I’m not going to give you the details of how to do it, or give anyone more information so they can flame me.

If you’re medically oriented, you’re not likely to be willing to hear what I have to say, and I have no interest in being flamed about this, so don’t bother, please!

But suffice it to say that I have done it multiple times, and successfully, on myself, and on my kids. I/they would start out feeling awful, thinking if it doesn’t work, I would have to go to the doctor the next day. It took 8 hours, and when I finished, I/they felt great, was rested, and had energy to spare. Symptoms were gone.

If it’s done right, it works very very well, but as I said before, it’s certainly not for everyone, and it’s not for every condition.

snowberry's avatar

I’ll also add that since the OP doesn’t have any idea what a sweat is, and that they come here to ask about it (!), they have no business pursuing it. They would be much better off going to their MD and getting their medical issues straightened out that way.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I don’t want to get flamed, either, but I have also successfully broken fevers (and felt much better) after using a hot bath to sweat. My mom is big on natural remedies, so we often had stuff for mustard baths around. Personally, I think it feels good and it feels like it works. As I’ve said, I can think of several occasions where I had a fever, soaked and sweated in a hot bath, then was markedly better within the next 12 hours.

MissAnthrope's avatar

Yeah, yeah…

cazzie's avatar

I wrote something smart, but deleted it because I didn’t want to be accused of being a flamer.

cazzie's avatar

leave them to confirm and cosy themselves in their ideas… and when someone experiences problems from meningitis or other infections, well, at least they can support themselves with the thought that they didn’t have to listen to opposing views or a bit of enlightenment and education on the internets.

MissAnthrope's avatar

I like how you leap to meningitis. I believe we were talking about “not serious” fevers. In any case, mild fevers, I generally let run their course.. it’s part of the body’s immune response and as long as it’s not extreme or excessive, I will let my body do what it’s engineered for.

The words “confirmation bias” are an irritatingly dismissive response in discussions and one of my pet peeves. But yes, I am intelligent enough to research, experiment, and figure out what ‘true’ is for me. In this case, hot baths during some select fevers were not only what my body craved at the time, I found they helped me out.

bkcunningham's avatar

Is the meningitis comment what you’d call a “slippery slope,” @MissAnthrope>

mjm8401's avatar

Yes. I barely get sick, because I try to stay active and doing so keeps your body clean. But you also need to eat good. When I do get sick I either rap myself up in blankets and sleep with a jug of water nearby. Or I go to a sauna and sweat it out. However I would not advise going to the sauna if you have a fever. Sometimes resting is good, but sometimes pushing yourself to the limit and working out is better. It would depend on what kind of sickness you are having.

JLeslie's avatar

@MissAnthrope Just curious, what degree fevers are you talking about? I understand you and @snowberry both are not talking about high fevers, and probably what you do is not going to endanger anyone, since the fever is not very high.

cazzie's avatar

I was always and simply not leaping to things that need to be taken accounted for. No leaping, but only just being aware of, but the horrible ‘do not flame’ warning prohibited me from the long, informed, educated and referenced post I was going to make… so….. burn away…. what do I care….

MissAnthrope's avatar

@JLeslie – My understanding is that things start to get dangerous around 103 F; healthy people likely would be fine, but from here on there’s danger of the brain overheating, brain damage, etc. I’m talking about lesser fevers than that, where I have felt icky and sore and a nice hot soak was appealing. It doesn’t always, but there have been several occasions over the years where I did this and felt better. Mustard baths have been used for a very long time to rid the body of toxins, so whether it’s been scientifically proven or not, I have at least enjoyed the placebo effect. ;)

I have personally experienced a very high, stubborn fever due to strep throat when I was 12, in which I was delirious most of the 36 or so hours, so my memory is patchy, but I know at one point, it measured 105 F. Cool bathing was used in this case, to lower my temperature until I could be seen my a doctor, and is something I am aware of and would utilize in the future. Just depends on what I feel like my body needs.

Rarebear's avatar

Special pleading.

Response moderated
JLeslie's avatar

@MissAnthrope Most low fevers don’t last more than 24 hours, especially in adults, kids can stay feverish much longer. Flus and bacterial infections cause high fevers. Flu, the fever usually at least 4 days. Bacterial infections depends on how well the body fights it off, sometimes the body doesn’t well and antibiotics are necessary. These fevers also typically last at least 4 days, or until treated.

Colds rarely have fever in adults, if they do they are low grade and are around for just a short time.

Brain damage is up around 106, 107, not that I would risk not bringing down anything over 103. At 101+ people usually are starting to feel pretty miserable. Reducing the fever can take away half the discomfort of an illness. I don’t get trying to increase the temperature at all. But, my family never had that idea, so it is so foreign to me, and it is not supported by doctors. A doctor may recommend keeping a patient warm and comfortable, especially with a typical congestions cold, or chest cold, but that is not the same as sweating out a fever. I can’t help but wonder if maybe some people twist the intention of what is recommended.

Of course there are other types of infections that can occur, but those are the common ones.

I am not trying to convince anyone. Just putting out there how colds and flus typically run their course. It amazes me, outside of this discussion how people seem unaware of the course of illness even though they have been alive for 40 years. I am not talking about anyone specifically here, but even among my friends. They seem to forget many colds start with a bad sore throught that goes away in about 24–36 hours, there is a 12 hour break and then the congestions starts. Usually very low or no fever. Strep throat usually has a high fever, and the sore throught persists past 48 hours. The flu usually has no congestions, has a cough, and high fever. Etc.

bkcunningham's avatar

@JLeslie, I was recently surprised that a grown woman I know, who is older than I and is very well educated, had never heard of gargling with warm salt water to ease the pain of a sore throat caused by postnasal drip. It certainly seems like we are a culture that runs to the doctor at the drop of a hat without using any tried and true remedies first.

philosopher's avatar

The current solution is the anti Viral medications. I recently read about something new being worked on.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120706234740.htm
At this time it is still best to take a flu vaccine every year.

JLeslie's avatar

@bkcunningham That is different. My point was people not paying attention to the different symptoms and different courses different illnesses take. Your point about rememdies and symptom relief, which I admit is in line with the original question, is a different matter. If someone has never heard of gargoing with salt water, they simply haven’t heard of it. But we all get sick. We all have exoerienced a sort throat truning to a cold, many of us have exoerienced a sore throat so bad we don’t want to swallow that will not go away, getting diagnosed with strep throat and needing antibiotics. Most of us have had a flu at least once where we could not get out of bed, and had a hard to control fever. But, a lot of people seem to not pay attention to the differences in the illnesses, and just say they are sick. Or, say they have the flu when they have a cold.

Plus, medical professionals support he use of salt water for gargling. Some home rememdies do help of course. Salt water will not cure strep throat though. It is symptom relief.

I never go to the doctor for colds or flu, I have to agree with you there, it is ridiculous how people run to the doctor in my opinion, and it pisses me off as a “well” patient in a doctor’s office. It is part of the reason I hate going to GP’s, there are contagious people there, especially during flu season.

Rarebear's avatar

@bkcunningham I knew an ENT doctor once who discouraged gargling. She thought it caused spams in the back of the throat making the pain worse. Personally, I prefer scotch.

JLeslie's avatar

The one I hear for sore throats all the time that bothers me is hot tea or hot soup. Hot makes a throat more inflamed. If it is truly difficult to swallow from pain caused by something severe like strep or mono, popsicles, ice cream, and cool drinks are in order, heat inflames more, cold reduces inflammation and numbs the area a little.

Sore throats from colds, usually are painful, but there is little difficulty swallowing.

Rarebear's avatar

Hot tea isn’t harmful, per se. It just doesn’t feel that good. That said, I do like warm tea (body temperature) with honey when I have a sore throat. But I just like the honey. I was kidding about the scotch. (Although I do like scotch )

bkcunningham's avatar

@Rarebear, you gargle with Scotch? ~

JLeslie's avatar

@Rarebear Not harmful, I was just talking about whether it is soothing. It depends on the throat problem.

fluthernutter's avatar

Statistically, no.
Personally, yes.

For non-serious fevers, sweating it out has always worked for me.
Sweating in your bed clothes is admittedly gross. But totally worth it.
You’ve got to drink lots of fluids though!

EXCEPT when you’re pregnant!

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