“Getting the chills” is a common phrase we use when we hear a scary story, or after watching a horror movie. However, experiencing chills as a medical condition is something that is not thrilling to experience. Here are some things you should know about chills.
Chills, also known as rigors and shivering, refers to the feeling of being cold after being exposed to a cold environment. It should not be mistaken for goosebumps, which are associated with feelings of chilliness as they raise an extra layer of skin to insulate against cold.
Chills are usually the first sign that your body sends to tell you that there is an oncoming fever. When we get infected by viruses or bacteria, our white blood cells, which act as our primary defense against such infections, send a message to our brain’s temperature control center. In order to ward off the infection, the brain then sends messages throughout the body to raise its temperature by constricting our blood vessels and making us shiver. By shivering, the extra muscle activity produces heat, and the constricted blood vessels prevent that heat from escaping our bodies.
Our skin may feel colder once we get an attack of the chills, but this is only because the blood is diverted deeper into our bodies, warming up the core, which often then becomes a fever.
When the chills set in, you will most likely experience sweating, shaking, trembling and an inability to keep warm despite being insulated under blankets or anything similar.
Chills are also more common in young children as they tend to develop higher fevers than most adults. Infants, however, do not tend to develop obvious chills, and any fever in a 6-month old baby or younger must be reported to a health care provider as soon as possible.
Causes of Chills
Because chills are usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection, there are many possible conditions that may be causing your chills. Be sure to observe other symptoms that accompany your chills to narrow down all possible causes.
- Exposure to cold environment. As mentioned earlier, chills are actually a reaction of the body to raise its temperature, so a prolonged exposure to a cold environment may result in this condition. It can also be accompanied by shivering, a feeling of coldness and paleness of skin.
- Viral and bacterial infections. Viral and bacterial infections are usually accompanied by chills and fever. These include colds, influenza, strep throat, malaria, viral gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections, infectious mononucleosis, pneumonia and meningitis, to name a few. You may also have other kinds of infections that may also exhibit flu-like symptoms and chills such as herpes.
- Cancer medication. Chills have been reported to occur after chemotherapy; however, they are generally considered to be a fairly normal effect of the procedure. If you persist in getting chills for months after your treatment, go see your doctor as this may be a side-effect of your cancer medication, or of any medication that you may be currently taking.
How to Get Rid of Chills
It can’t be mentioned enough, but chills usually appear with other symptoms, meaning that you may be dealing with many different possibilities on what’s causing them. Here’s some basic things you can do when you get an attack of the chills.
Aim for the fever. Chills usually announce the arrival of fevers, so in most cases, it’s best to treat your fever to get rid of your chills. Over-the-counter medicines that you usually use for fever will also ease out the chill response, if not make it disappear completely. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are both effective medication in responding to your basic fever.
Note that children who are displaying symptoms of a viral infection should not be given aspirin or products containing aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome, which may be triggered precisely by taking aspirin as response to viral infection.
Rest and fluid intake. Like the previous item, the best way to get rid of chills is to take the same route as getting rid of a fever. Drink more water or fruit juice to keep yourself well-hydrated and get plenty of bed rest. Sit back and let your immune system do the rest.
Bundle up. Another way to get rid of the chills is to encourage the fever to come out. Get in bed, bundle up and layer yourself with thick blankets. You’ll feel the fever coming on after a while. You should then take a Tylenol and soak yourself in a tub of body-temperature water. Using a washcloth, rub your skin all over to help dilate or widen your blood vessels. When the water evaporates, it will help you cool down and make the chills go away.
Note that some doctors do not recommend you bury yourself under the blankets when your fever is already high. Note that this should be done to coax the fever out.
Avoid alcohol. Some traditional thinking dictates that rubbing alcohol all over your body will help you get rid of the chills, but in fact, it won’t. Rubbing alcohol all over your body will bring down your temperature too quickly, and you might just end up feeling uncomfortable, or worse, make your skin even colder.
Avoid alcohol, part two. Drinking alcohol may warm you up, but this is not the solution for your chills. Remember, chills are telling you that you have an infection, and your body may not be able to handle alcohol’s other side effects. You need your wits with you when the fever finally hits, and alcohol may make the situation worse. It may cause fainting, and you don’t want that when you’re already feeling so bad!
Give yourself a sponge bath. If you are feeling too weak or you do not have anyone to help you out, you can help yourself to a warm sponge bath. What you can do is dip a sponge in comfortably warm water (around 70 Fahrenheit) and apply it all over your body to help reduce the fever. Do this in 20 minutes or less. Don’t use cold water because it will lower your body temperature even more and make your chills worse.
Apply hot compress to your feet. Follow this home remedy: apply a hot water compress to your feet. Some doctors say that this will help warm up your body at a good pace and allow the fever break out.
Dress lightly. After your sponge bath, or your dip in warm water, be sure to pat yourself dry and dress in light clothing. Stay in a room that is cool but is not uncomfortable.
Go see your doctor. When the chills and fever (if the fever breaks out) are persistent, or you are starting to observe other symptoms, go see a doctor. If you are caring for a child with fever and chills, see a doctor immediately. Your doctor will test and evaluate any other symptoms and recommend proper treatment.
Cancer patients who have been experiencing chills persistently after taking their cancer medication should also go to their doctor to find out what possible causes may be.
Chills are our body’s natural response to heat up our bodies in the event of an infection. While it may be scary for very young children and very inconvenient for adults, it’s an early warning signal that we’re most likely about to get sick. Don’t ignore the chills the next time you get them—unless, of course, you’re watching something scary and it passes away quickly.