The measurement of body temperature may be helpful for monitoring whether a person is ill, or whether 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 the most recommended type. The temperature is seen on an easy-to-read display. A 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 probe thermometers.
Wait at least 1 hour after intense 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 by:
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:
Fevers that are too high or too low can be serious, and you should consult a health care provider.
Often, older people do not run a high temperature, even if they are sick.
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. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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