Cases of drug abuse and their successive illnesses can be seen everywhere. Not only are those illicit drugs harmful for the body, even the mode of transmission can cause serious physical problems. There are many side effects caused by sharing intravenous(IV) syringes. But some even go on to use shared cotton filters. Cotton fever is the result of such drug intake but is not much mentioned. 

Cotton fever is not a very serious disease and is an uncommon illness for drug abusers. Using unsterile or reused cotton for taking drugs can lead to several other diseases as well. So, it is advisable to avoid such means and is even better to avoid drug abuse at all. There has been a rise in the cases of cotton fever even if it is not so serious.

Although the symptoms of cotton fever are hard to discern from other diseases, it is better to take a note. Cotton fever is, however, easy to cure unless it is an extreme case. We have all the symptoms and home remedies for cotton fever listed for you right here.

What is Cotton Fever?

Cotton fever is a street terminology used for post-injection fever that many drug users experience after intaking illicit drugs, especially heroin and cocaine. It is a benign and self-limiting febrile syndrome which means it is not life-threatening or too severe. A condition very similar to cotton fever was first described in the 18th century among some cotton-mill workers. Later the term cotton fever was coined in 1975 after the syndrome was recognized in intravenous drug users. 

The drugs need to be filtered, so that particles that do not dissolve into blood are prevented from entering. But the primary reason for cotton fever is by the usage of cotton balls as filters to administer drugs into veins. To be more specific, the unsanitary or previously used cotton filters are likely to transfer bacteria into the bloodstream. 

Cotton fever is not too severe and can often be resolved on its own but it is necessary to seek medical help. However, it is not a communicable disease. The pain in cotton fever is unbearable but it lasts for only some time. Although in extreme cases it could cause blood clots and other issues that may need medical assistance.But not many severe cases have been reported for cotton fever. 

Causes of Cotton Fever

The exact cause of cotton fever is yet unknown but there are several prevailing theories that explain the cause of cotton fever. Since not many severe cases of cotton fever have been noted, there is no definite proof for the cause of it.There are three solid theories for the explanation of cotton fever.

  • Immunologic Theory– This theory is that there are some patients who have performed antibodies to cotton and hence react to cotton. This causes cotton fever to occur in them.
  • Pharmacologic Theory– This theory states that the fever occurs due to a pyrogenic substance present in cotton material that causes inflammation when injected into the bloodstream. Since it is mixed with liquid substance, it can easily dissolve in the blood which causes a reaction to occur.
  • Endotoxin Theory– This theory is based on bacteria Pantoea agglomerans that are extracted from cotton. It is deemed to be the reason but there has been only one case report where the bacteria was retrieved from the patient’s body. Since there has only been one such case, the theory cannot be affirmed right away. 

These theories are not tested or approved and hence cannot be confirmed whether they are true or not. The common use of cotton instead of a membrane filter and the intravenous use of crack cocaine, heroin and longer duration use of opium can be the major cause of cotton fever in drug abusers. 

cotton fever

Symptoms of Cotton Fever

The symptoms of cotton fever are similar to sepsis, endocarditis, cellulitis and flu/pneumonia. Hence it can often be misdiagnosed at first. The symptoms do not occur before 20 minutes of injection and start kicking in gradually. The fever can reach around 38.5–40.3 °C over the time. 

In addition to the fever, these are a few more signs that might indicate the illness.

  • Headaches
  • Malaise
  • Chills
  • Nausea 
  • Extreme Joint and muscle pain
  • Sharp, Piercing or Burning Back
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tachycardia (abnormally high heart rate over 100 per min)

The effects of cotton fever can range from mild to severe and can last from a few hours to a day or two. But it is difficult to detect cotton fever because of its similarities with other diseases.

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Home Remedies for Cotton Fever

There are no specific vaccines, cure or treatment for cotton fever. Cotton fever may generally not be as serious to require hospitalization, but in severe conditions, it may need immediate attention. 

If it is mild, then you can use these two easy home remedies for cotton fever that can help ease the pain and fever, but the prior step is get your blood tested at a hospital and get a proper full diagnosis of the illness. Since, there are not many treatments for cotton fever, you can use the methods for common fever to cure it that you know. 

Warm Bath

Cotton fever can be treated like a common fever. Hot showers or warm baths can be the most effective for fevers. Soaking in a warm bath along with a fever reducing agent for some time will help you alleviate the fever. This may help you get through the high fever. 


Antibiotics or antipyretics like Acetaminophen and Ibuprofen can also be used for cotton fever depending on the severity of the case. The same antipyretics that you need for a common fever can do the work for you. If the case is severe or lasts for a longer duration, you can use the over-the-counter antibiotics to bring the fever down. 

This can also help reduce the pain to some extent for you. Though, if the case is too serious, it would be better to visit a hospital. This home remedy for cotton fever can be used meanwhile to keep your pain low.


Stay Hydrated

Hydration is of utmost importance. Keeping yourself hydrated from time to time will help you maintain your stamina and ease your pain. Drinking water regularly or eating watery fruits and vegetables like grapes, oranges or cucumbers would be a good source of hydration. Although it may not be of much help to get rid of the infection, it could sooth your body pain.

Also Read: Home Remedies For Dehydration That Always Works Effectively

Herbal Tea

Herbal tea is known for its natural ingredients as a source for healing. Herbal tea like elder-flower or yarrow tea may help you alleviate your fever to some extent. Herbal tea opens the pores on the skin and causes sweating which in turn lowers the temperature. This is one of the best home remedies for cotton fever you can resort to if the fever is very high.

Herbal Tea

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient for the immune system. Fruits like oranges that are rich in Vitamin C or other sources of vitamin C can be a really good source to improve your immunity during this infection.There may not be many home remedies for cotton fever but such general remedies that can help you improve your immune system and stamina can be an option during this infection. These can help you fight off cotton fever effectively. 

These remedies for cotton fever may help you to some extent and get through the disease at home. But if it lasts for a longer than expected or the pain is still unbearable, you are recommended to go to a hospital. If you want to avoid cotton fever, the most desirable method would be to stay away from illicit drugs. Most drug addicts fear the withdrawal symptoms and so continue to take the risk. But withdrawal symptoms are deemed to be less severe than the pain experienced during cotton fever. It may not be a fatal disease but is very uncomfortable to get through.

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Final Words

Cotton fever may be easy to cure and not a fatal disease but the symptoms are very painful to bear. Some addicts who experienced cotton fever claimed that it was more painful than withdrawal symptoms. They mentioned if someone could get through cotton fever, they would easily be able to get through withdrawal syndrome. 

The best advice to avoid cotton fever could be to stop drug abuse itself. Seeing how painful it is, the former alternative can be the best solution to it. Unfortunately, if you are suffering from cotton fever and are in pain these home remedies for cotton fever can help you reduce some of it.