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What’s in a Number? Temperature Taking Basics


We’ve all had a fever, and from that experience we know that treating a fever is important regardless of why it has appeared. Many people think they know the basics when it comes to temperature and the human body, but how much do they really know? Things aren’t always as cut and dry as you might have once thought, so to help ensure that you know what you’re looking at when you take your temperature, our experts have come up with some helpful information.

What’s Normal?

You’ve probably taken a science class or heard your mother tell you that your temperature should be 98.6 degrees fahrenheit, but how often have you seen that as your actual temperature reading? It’s more likely than not that you have gotten close, but may have rarely hit the mark on the head. That’s because this ‘normal’ reading is more of an average of many normals. In fact, your body temperature will vary as much as a whole degree depending on certain situations.

  • When you’re cold, your temperature can actually be lower than ‘normal’. Similarly, on a hot day, your temp may be higher than you may be used to. The body regulates itself well despite temperature extremes outside, but you may still notice variations.
  • Hormones play a big part in body temperature. Many women trying to conceive take their temperature daily in order to track when they might be ovulating.
  • Temperature varies based on where you take it. Rectal temperatures are the most accurate, while under arm temps and ear temperatures can be slightly lower but consistent, and thus, accurate.


If your are taking your temperature, you might be looking for something abnormal, like a fever. Fevers can be symptoms of other illnesses and may be serious at some times. In an adult, a fever is any time your temperature is over 100.4 degrees fahrenheit. For a child, anything over 99 degrees is counted as a fever.

Most fevers are not dangerous, but some are, especially for younger children. Any time a fever reaches more than 103 degrees, medical care should be sought. Fevers that last more than 5 days need medical attention. Fevers with certain symptoms, such as a stiff neck, confusion, vision trouble, chest pain, rashes, or difficulty breathing or swallowing, are also cause for concern. Only a doctor can tell you if your fever is a sign of something more troubling, or if you are just fighting off an infection. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Tracking Temperature Easily

Regardless of if you take temperatures because of illness concerns, or to track temperature changes in your body, it’s important to make sure of a few things first so that you can be certain of safety and accuracy.

  • Always make sure you use a fresh cover or clean the thermometer as directed. Do this between people and after each use.
  • Taking your temperature should not hurt. For rectal temperatures, some discomfort is common, but not pain. If you experience pain in any method of taking a temperature, make sure to contact your medical professional.
  • Don’t be afraid to take your temperature multiple times to get an average, especially if you notice the first reading seems abnormal.
  • Keep in mind that eating, drinking, smoking, and physical activity can all have an effect on the final reading.

Regardless of why you need to take a temperature, keep these things in mind and you’ll never have to guess what the numbers on the screen mean. Instead, you can approach you or your charge’s healthcare with an educated mind and the right tools to make good decisions along the way.

  • August 12, 2017
  • Adriana Morgan