What is Cotton Fever?

Cotton fever is an illness that can occur after injecting drugs. It is not considered dangerous or life-threatening, however, symptoms can be uncomfortable and frightening.

The name “cotton fever” comes with the illness’s association with intravenous drug use. People who inject drugs often filter the drugs they are injecting using a homemade cotton filter. They place the cotton filter in the substance and use it as a barrier when drawing the liquid up into the syringe. As a result, some IV drug users and health experts initially believed that the condition occurs as a result of cotton particles entering the bloodstream.

What Causes Cotton Fever?

It’s unlikely that this condition is caused by cotton particles themselves unless those particles introduce bacteria into the body. However, bacteria can enter the body in a number of ways when injecting drugs. The drugs themselves can contain bacteria as well as the spoon, needles, and other injection materials.

The most widely accepted theory behind the illness is that it occurs as a result of an endotoxin response. Certain bacteria that may be harbored in reused cotton filters or needles introduce bacteria into the bloodstream, often a specific type of bacteria called Enterobacter agglomerans, which creates a mild toxin in the body. This toxin results in fever symptoms. The bacteria is sometimes found in cotton plants.

What are the Symptoms of Cotton Fever?

This phenomenon is not well-studied and symptoms are usually self-limiting, so there is little research on the condition.

Symptoms may include:

  • Sudden onset of fever
  • General feelings of malaise
  • Body pain
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Back pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chills
  • Shaking
  • Feeling cold
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness

Cotton fever may be diagnosed if symptoms begin shortly after IV drug use and if no other health condition that explains the symptoms is present. It’s important to note that cotton fever symptoms can vary from person to person, and some individuals may experience only mild symptoms.

How Long Does Cotton Fever Last?

Cotton fever is a temporary condition that usually resolves on its own. The duration can vary from person to person and depends on various factors, including the individual’s overall health, the severity of symptoms, and whether any complications develop.

Symptoms begin shortly after injecting drugs and often subside within 12 hours, with severe cases lasting up to 24 hours. There are no reported long-term effects of the condition, but if symptoms become severe or last more than 12 hours, it is important to seek medical attention to rule out other conditions and get the necessary treatment. Complications such as dehydration or severe infections can occur, especially if prompt medical care is not obtained.

Treatment, Relief, and Prevention

If you or someone you love are experiencing cotton fever, it may be in your best interest to seek professional help from a hospital or addiction treatment center. Treatment revolves around supportive care, aiming to minimize your symptoms and help you feel better faster. In some cases, antibiotics may be prescribed, and fluids can be administered if dehydration occurs.

Additional ways to cope with the symptoms include:

  • Drink plenty of water to help flush toxins out of the body
  • Take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory
  • Meditate or practice deep breathing techniques
  • Do something you find relaxing
  • Try to sleep it off

Prevention of cotton fever involves using sterile injection equipment, including clean needles and syringes, and avoiding sharing injection equipment with others. Proper hygiene practices, such as washing hands and cleaning injection sites, can also help reduce the risk of infection.

The only way to prevent the condition entirely is to seek drug addiction treatment and avoid substance abuse altogether.

Long-Term Risks of IV Drug Abuse

There are many long-term dangers of IV drug abuse, including cotton fever. However, as a temporary condition, cotton fever should be the least of your worries. IV drug abuse is linked to numerous health risks, including:

  • Infections such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and other bloodborne diseases
  • Abscesses, skin infections, and cellulitis near the injection site
  • Scarring from repeated injections
  • Damage to veins, such as collapsed veins and blood clots
  • Overdose
  • Cardiovascular complications such as heart infections and heart attacks
  • Social and economic consequences ranging from loss of relationships to loss of employment

If you or a loved one inject drugs, our treatment programs at First Step Behavioral Health can help you achieve sustainable recovery.

Find Help for IV Drug Abuse Today

1st Step Behavioral Health is a licensed dual-diagnosis long-term addiction treatment facility that is accredited by the Joint Commission. We focus on the physiological rebalancing of the individual through medical, physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual care.

At our alcohol and drug treatment center, programs and methods are customizable to suit the individual and their unique needs. What you can expect when attending treatment here is a highly personalized approach to care that will have a significant and lasting impact on you or your loved one’s recovery.

To learn more about our substance abuse treatment programs or to get started with a confidential, risk-free assessment, please contact us today.

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