The measurement of body temperature can help detect illness. It can also monitor whether or not treatment is working. A high temperature is a fever.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends against using glass thermometers with mercury. The glass can break, and mercury is a poison.
Electronic thermometers are most often recommended. The temperature is displayed on an easy-to-read panel. The probe can be placed in the mouth, rectum, or armpit.
Plastic strip thermometers change color to show the temperature. This method is the least accurate.
Always clean the thermometer before and after using. You can use cool, soapy water or rubbing alcohol.
Electronic ear thermometers are common and easy to use. However, some users report that the results are less accurate than with probe thermometers.
Wait at least 1 hour after heavy exercise or a hot bath before measuring body temperature. Wait for 20 to 30 minutes after smoking, eating, or drinking a hot or cold liquid.
The average normal body temperature is 98.6°F (37°C). The normal temperature can vary due to:
Body temperature can be raised by:
If the reading on the thermometer is more than 1 to 1.5 degrees above your normal temperature, you have a fever. Fevers may be a sign of:
Body temperature that is too high or too low can be serious. Call your health care provider if this is the case.
Often, older people do not run a high temperature, even if they are sick.
Related topics include:
Mackowiak PA. Temperature regulation and pathogenesis of fever. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 50.
Nield LS, Kamat D. Fever. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 169.
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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