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Can rubbing alcohol help cool a fever?

Published on October 21, 2014 at 14:41 / Updated on May 13, 2019 at 18:36

Should we rub rubbing alcohol onto skin to help relieve a fever?

One of the staples of most medicine cabinets is isopropyl alcohol, better known as rubbing alcohol. It has long been used in various ways, most notably, to clean cuts and wounds. Today however, the medical community no longer recommends this practice. Not only have studies shown that rubbing alcohol in no way accelerates the healing process, it is also very painful when it is applied directly onto a wound. On the other hand, when rubbing alcohol is applied on healthy skin, it produces a cooling effect. So the question remains: should we rub it onto our skin to help relieve a fever? Although the use of this folk remedy is rarer today, according to an American paediatric journal, it remains very common in some communities.

When we rub isopropyl alcohol onto our skin, we feel a refreshing sensation which could potentially help lower our body temperature. Some parents actually massage it onto their little ones’ feverish skin or add it to their bath water to help bring a fever down.

It is important you know that using isopropyl alcohol to cool a fever can have very serious health consequences. In fact, not only does our skin absorb rubbing alcohol very rapidly, when large quantities are applied topically, the vapours we inhale can cause alcohol poisoning along with other health problems. Medical literature reveals several accounts of small children who have slipped into comas after their caregivers had attempted to reduce their fever with rubbing alcohol. Furthermore, other reports actually show the onset of cardiac and neurological problems in adults who attempted to relieve their pain or fever by soaking towels in isopropyl alcohol.

The bottom line is that when your child has a fever, you should definitely not use rubbing alcohol to relieve them. Rather, you can give them acetaminophen, or ibuprofen if your child is older than six months of age, lower the temperature in their room, and dress them in light layers of clothing. When a child under the age of six months is suffering from a fever, they require medical attention and should see a family physician or paediatrician immediately.

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