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Learning About Taking Your Temperature

Ear and electronic thermometers

What is body temperature?

Body temperature is a measure of how well your body can make and get rid of heat. You can take your temperature by using a thermometer. There are specific types to use in different parts of the body.

Most people have an average temperature of about 37°C (98.6°F). But "normal" varies from person to person. Your temperature also changes during the day. It's likely to be lowest in the early morning. And it's probably highest in the early evening. In most adults, an oral temperature above 38°C (100.4°F), or a rectal or ear temperature above 38.3°C (101°F), is considered a fever.

How do you take your temperature by mouth?

Before you take a temperature, read the instructions for how to use your type of thermometer.

Oral (by mouth) is the most common method of taking a temperature. For you to get an accurate reading, you must be able to breathe through your nose. If you can't, then use the rectum, ear, or armpit to take your temperature.

  1. Put the thermometer under your tongue, a little to one side of the centre.

    Close your lips tightly around it.

  2. Leave it there for as long as the instructions say.
  3. Remove the thermometer and read it.
  4. Clean the thermometer with cool, soapy water.

    Rinse it off before you put it away.

How do you take your armpit temperature?

  1. Put the thermometer under your arm.

    The tip should be in the centre of the armpit.

  2. Press your arm against your body.

    Leave the thermometer there for as long as the instructions say.

  3. Remove the thermometer and read it.

    An armpit temperature may be as much as 0.6°C (1°F) lower than an oral one.

  4. Clean the thermometer with cool, soapy water.

    Rinse it off before you put it away.

How do you take your ear temperature?

  1. Check that the ear probe is clean.

    If it's dirty, wipe it gently with a clean cloth. Do not put the thermometer in water.

  2. To keep the probe clean, use a disposable probe cover.

    Attach the disposable cover to the probe.

  3. Turn the thermometer on.
  4. Pull your earlobe up and back.

    Centre the probe tip in the ear, and push gently inward toward your eardrum.

  5. Press the "on" button to display the temperature reading.
  6. Remove the thermometer, and throw away the used probe cover.
  7. Use a new probe cover each time you take an ear temperature.

How do you take your forehead temperature?

Forehead thermometers aren't as accurate as electronic and ear ones.

  1. Press the soft cup of the thermometer or the entire plastic strip firmly against a dry forehead.
  2. Hold it there for as long as the instructions say.
  3. Remove the thermometer from your forehead and read the temperature.
  4. Clean the thermometer with cool, soapy water.

    Then rinse it off before you put it away.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

Enter N541 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Taking Your Temperature".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.