Measuring Fever

Every child will develop a fever several times a year.  Infant fever is a normal response to a variety of illnesses. Fever is a condition in which the body’s temperature is elevated as a result of the body’s thermostat being reset to a higher than usual temperature.

Because of the normal variation in body temperature, there is no single value that is defined as fever. However, the following are generally accepted values:

  • Rectal temperature above 100.4ºF (38ºC)
  • Oral temperature above 99.5ºF (37.5ºC)
  • Armpit temperature above 99ºF (37.2ºC)
  • Digital pacifier temperature above 100ºF (37.8ºC)
  • Ear temperature above 100.4º (38ºC) in rectal mode or 99.5ºF (37.5ºC) in oral mode.

There are several ways to measure body temperature. The best way to measure a child’s temperature depends upon several factors. In all children, a rectal temperature is the most accurate. However, it is possible to accurately measure the temperature in the mouth (for children older than four or five years) or ear (for children older than six months) when the proper technique is used.

Temperatures measured in the armpit are the least accurate, but may be useful as a first test in an infant who is younger than three months. If the armpit temperature is over 99ºF (37.2ºC), the rectal temperature should be measured.

Rectal temperature

  • The child or infant should lie down on their stomach across an adult’s lap.
  • Apply a small amount of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to the end of the thermometer.
  • Gently insert the thermometer into the child’s anus until the silver tip of the thermometer is not visible (1/4 to 1/2 inch inside the anus).
  • Hold the thermometer in place. A glass thermometer requires 2 minutes while most digital thermometers need less than one minute.

Oral temperature

  • Clean the thermometer with cool water and soap. Rinse with water.
  • Place the tip of the thermometer under the child’s tongue towards the back. Ask the child to hold the thermometer with his or her lips.
  • Keep the lips sealed around the thermometer. A glass thermometer requires about 3 minutes while most digital thermometers need less than one minute.

Armpit temperature

  • Place the tip of the thermometer in the child’s dry armpit.
  • Hold the thermometer in place by holding the child’s elbow against the chest for 4 to 5 minutes.

Ear temperature

Ear thermometers are not reliable in infants less than 6 months old. If the child has been outside on a cold day, wait 15 minutes before measuring the ear temperature. Ear tubes and ear infections do not affect the accuracy of an ear temperature.

  • To measure temperature accurately in the ear, the parent must pull the child’s outer ear backwards before inserting the thermometer.
  • Hold the ear probe in the child’s ear for about two seconds.

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