How to Take Your Temperature

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Feels like we should’ve learned this in Health class.

I remember the first time I had to take my own temperature after moving out of my parents’ house, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. Knowing how to use the thermometer wasn’t my department as a kid; I just opened my mouth, put it in, waited a minute, and took it out (occasionally trying to will my body hotter if I didn’t want to go to school), leaving my parents to parse its meaning. Knowing how to determine a fever is a vital skill, doubly so if you have kids of your own, and triply so in the middle of a pandemic. If you’re as clueless as I was, here’s a quick and dirty explanation.


Thanks to advances in thermometer technology, there’s plenty of ways to get a temperature. If you’re using a classic mercury thermometer, you can get a read by placing it under your tongue, under your armpit, or rectally. Yes, really. Thankfully, these days, thermometers are less intrusive. Electric thermometers work the same way as mercury ones, but specialized thermometers can also get a temperature from being inserted in an ear or just from hovering near your forehead. Just remember to use a disposable cover if your thermometer requires insertion anywhere. Technically you can use one without a cover, but you’ll need to clean it really thoroughly afterward, preferably in a peroxide solution, which is just kind of a hassle.

So now, the million-dollar question: what constitutes a fever? An adult human body is actually pretty warm on a regular basis. Obviously, this varies based on factors like age, gender, body type, and even the time of day, but generally, a temperature between 97 and 99 degrees Fahrenheit is pretty normal. However, a few degrees can make all the difference. 101 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, while not quite a full-blown fever, is concerning enough to warrant staying home. If you measure at 103 degrees Fahrenheit or above, that’s a full-blown fever, and you should call your doctor immediately.

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Incidentally, the ranges are slightly different for infants. If your baby is 3 months or younger, a fever is 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or above. If they’re between 3 and 6 months old, a fever is 102 degrees Fahrenheit or above. If they’re between 6 and 24 months old, a fever is also 102 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Past that, you can judge kids on the same temperature scale as adults.

Remember, you can’t determine your own temperature with your hands. If you’re ever unsure, pop that thermometer in.