Think you know everything about how to use a thermometer correctly? If you read this post until the end, I’ll wager you’ll learn something you didn’t know. And understanding the right way to use a thermometer is important for various reasons.
When people bring their child to my office because of fever, one thing I ask is if they’ve actually taken their temperature with a thermometer. Many have not. Either they don’t have one or they’re not sure they can use a thermometer correctly.
Even if you’re in a situation where you can’t get to a doctor, exact readings taken at different times of the day can be an important clue in making a proper diagnosis. With many infections—strep throat is one I see a lot—the fever is usually a lot lower in the morning than it is in the evening. Also, knowing if your fever is lower today than it was yesterday can be an objective sign you’re getting better. Of course, if it’s not, or if it’s higher, that may be an indicator of the opposite.
If you don’t have a thermometer, I suggest you get one the next time you’re out. Get the digital kind. It’s easy to use (a beep goes off to tell you it’s time to remove it), and it’s more reliable than the skin or ear kind. In fact, buy an extra one for your bug-out bag.
How to Use a Thermometer: Mistakes People Make
1. They don’t wait at least 15 minutes after eating or drinking to put the thermometer in their mouths.
2. They don’t keep it in long enough. If you have a digital kind, just follow the directions.
3. They compare temperatures taken at different times of the day,
not realizing that even in people who are not sick, temperatures vary from morning to evening. As I’ve already mentioned, they can do this even more depending on what’s causing the fever. So don’t compare yesterday morning’s temperature to the one you take this evening. Rather compare the one you took around 9 a.m. yesterday to the one you take today around that time.
I’d suggest taking the temperature mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and at night. Write the findings and times down. Then take them at approximately the same times the following day to monitor improvement or worsening.
4. They don’t use a thermometer. Instead, they rely on how they feel or how the skin feels.
Some people ache and feel really bad with a temperature of 99. Others feel pretty good with a fever of 101. How you feel is not necessarily an indicator of whether you have a fever.
How your skin feels isn’t a good indicator either. Many people think they’re running a fever because their skin feels hot. Of course that may be the case, but skin can be flushed for many reasons.
Think about it. All it takes for someone’s skin to feel hot is your hand being cooler than the skin you’re touching. And our skin surface temperature varies throughout the day.
Try cooling off your hand under a faucet. Dry it and touch your forehead. You’ll get the idea.
What’s been your experience with thermometers? Which type do you use? Have you taken your temperature only to find it normal when you think it would be high, or vice versa?
How to Use a Thermometer With Kids
Q. Can I use a skin or ear thermometer?
A. If you just want to know if the child is running a fever and you’re not too worried about exactly how much, or if taking the temperature is going to be a big ordeal, you can use the skin or ear thermometer. Or you can place an digital thermometer under the arm for about five minutes (or until it beeps). Keep it in place by holding the child’s elbow next to the body. If there’s fever, you can then take a more accurate oral or rectal reading.
Q. How (and why) would I take a rectal temperature?
A. A rectal temperature is the most accurate and is the way you’ll measure the temperature of young children who can’t hold a thermometer under their tongue. Turn the baby face down, apply a lubricant to the tip, and insert the tip about a half-inch. Keep in place for one to two minutes. A good way to hold it in is to place your palm on the buttocks and hold the thermometer lightly between your index and middle fingers.
For a rectal temperature, you use the same type of thermometer as you would use in your mouth, so be sure to label it (or just buy 2) so you don’t get it mixed up and use it in your mouth next time.
Tips for When a Child Has a Fever
Fever Temperatures-accuracy-and-comparison (link here)
If there’s fever, look at the child overall. For instance:
- Do they look sick?
- Are they drinking fluids? Playing? (These are clues the infection may not be that bad.)
Exceptions: Even if you’re in a disaster situation and getting professional medical help right away is difficult, make every effort to do so if:
- The child is 3 months old or under with a rectal temperature of 100.4 F or above.
- The child’s temperature rises to around 106 (very rare).
- The child has a petechial rash.
If calling a doctor is an option, here some more guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. To summarize some of the recommendations, call the doctor if your child has a fever and looks sick, or if your child is younger than 12 weeks and the fever is 100.4 or higher. Also call the doctor if the fever:
- Is over 104 in any child
- Lasts over 24 hours in a child under 2 years old
- Lasts over 72 hours in a child 2 or older
Now, I’m not discounting a parent’s intuition. In fact, I suggest not ignoring it. But if a child is drinking fluids pretty well, is playing, and runs away when you get out the acetaminophen or ibuprofen, fever or not, they’re probably doing well enough to not need that fever medication. Most of the time, the only reason to try to get the fever down is to make the child feel better.
The bottom line is, if you can’t get to or even call a doctor or nurse, you can consider how the child is actually doing before getting out in that blizzard to go to the emergency room.