How to use a thermometer to check temperature


If you think you or your baby may have a fever, look for a thermometer to check. However, getting accurate readings means knowing the right way to use that type thermometer. that you have. There are several different options available, from temporary to oral, rectal to axillary, and it’s easier to get it wrong than you think.

 Learn about Medications / Kelly Miller

Types of thermometers

You have the option of using digital or manual thermometers (mercury) to measure temperature in three ways:

Two other types of digital thermometers are available:

  • Eardrum
  • Temporary (front)

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends digital thermometers to measure a baby’s temperature because they are fast and accurate. The specific type of digital thermometer they offer depends on age.

AAP thermometer recommendations by age
Type Location Age Reliability
Digital multiple uses Rectal From birth to 3 years High
Digital multiple uses Oral* 4 years+ High
Digital multiple uses Axillary Any Low; more suitable for general detection
Temporary Forehead side 3 months+ Moderate 
Drum Ear 6 months+ Moderate

* Discard the old rectal thermometer and buy a new one for oral use.

Using An Oral Thermometer

Oral thermometers – No the best option for young children who may not be able to keep their mouths shut long enough to get a good read.

For oral thermometer use:

  1. Wash your hands before handling the thermometer.
  2. Put it under your tongue.
  3. Make sure your mouth stays closed at all times.
  4. Wait about five minutes (handheld thermometer) or a beep (digital thermometer).

Do not measure your oral temperature immediately after eating or drinking; this will affect the results.

Using An Axillary Thermometer

While this is the least accurate way to measure a child’s temperature, it is often used in schools and day care centers to prevent the spread of germs.

For axillary thermometer use:

  1. Place the thermometer under your arm with the tip in the deepest crease of your armpit.
  2. Wait about five minutes (handheld thermometer) or a beep (digital thermometer).

Using A Rectal Thermometer

Rectal thermometers are specially designed with short tips that allow them to get the right readings without going too far into the body. This method should be used for babies or those whose temperature cannot be measured in any other way.

For rectal thermometer use:

  1. Use a lubricant such as petroleum jelly to facilitate insertion.
  2. Place the tip of the thermometer in the rectum.
  3. Wait about five minutes (handheld thermometer) or a beep (digital thermometer).

Clean Your Thermometer

Rinse the thermometer before and after use cold water, below alcohol to clean. Rinse thoroughly to eliminate alcohol.

Use of Drum thermometer

These ear thermometers are very popular, especially among parents of young children, as they are faster than normal digital thermometers and easy to use. However, drum thermometers can be difficult to use on infants and often inaccurate because their ear canals are very small. 

Use Drum thermometer:

  • Pull the top of the earlobe up and back
  • Place the tip of the thermometer (covered with the probe cap) into the hole in the ear canal. (Be sure to direct the tube towards the hole in the ear canal, not the wall of the ear.)
  • Press the button until a beep sounds.

Before using this method, make sure that no excess earwax forms, as this can lead to less accurate results.

Using A Temporary Thermometer

The newest and most expensive thermometer on the market, temporary thermometers, read heat from the temporal artery just under the skin of the forehead. These are the fastest thermometers and probably the easiest to use. However, sometimes they can be too low.

Different models may have different instructions for use. Usually for the use of a temporary thermometer:

  • Click the button below.
  • Run the probe over your forehead and release the button when you are done.

Note: some models require a finger on the forehead e through the neck under the ear.

It’s a fairly new technology, but research shows it’s at least as accurate as battery devices.

Mercury thermometer

Mercury thermometers are no longer sold in the United States. They pose a danger if they break down and release mercury, which is toxic.

If you have an old mercury thermometer you choose to use, shake it so that the temperature of the mercury drops below 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, hold it in place for about five minutes to get an accurate reading.

temperature range

“Normal” body temperature is usually indicated as 98.6 degrees F. However, there is actually a range of body temperature that is affected by all sorts of factors, including age, height, weight, gender, ethnicity and even time of day and activity level.

Interestingly, the average seems to have declined over time. Study 2017 the year showed that the average body temperature is closer to 97.88 degrees F. However, this is relatively new information and has not yet affected what the medical community considers normal and abnormal.

Body Temperature Ranges
Range Bottom End The Top End
Normal 97 degrees Fahrenheit 99 degrees Fahrenheit
Low fever 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit 100.3 degrees Fahrenheit
Fever 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit 103 degrees Fahrenheit
high temperature 103 degrees Fahrenheit n / A

When to call the doctor

Not all fevers need treatment. If you are concerned about the fever, you can take over-the-counter fever-reducing medicines, such as aspirin (adults only), Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen) or ALEV (naproxen).

However, certain temperatures or symptoms require medical attention.

When it comes to your baby, you should consult a doctor when:

  • A child 3 months or younger has a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • A child of any age has repeated fevers above 104 degrees Fahrenheit
  • A child younger than 2 years old has a fever of 100.4 that lasts more than 24 hours
  • A child 2 years and older has a temperature of 100.4 and lasts for more than 72 hours
  • Your baby cries or complains and it’s impossible to calm him down

An adult should see a doctor if they have a fever:

  • More than 103 degrees Fahrenheit that do not decrease within two hours of taking a medicine to lower the temperature
  • Lasts more than two days
  • It is in a high range and is accompanied by an eruption
  • This is accompanied by stiffness in the neck and confusion or irritability, sensitivity to light (Photophobia), dehydration, or seizures

Any temperature above 105 degrees Fahrenheit is a life-threatening emergency. Call 911 or have someone take you to the emergency room right away.

Frequently asked questions

  • Yes. However, readings are 0.5-1 degrees F lower than oral readings, so the average body temperature with a forehead thermometer can be between 97.6 and 98.1 instead of the normal 98.6.

  • Non-contact front thermometers are a good choice for COVID detection. Anything exceeding 100.5 F can be a sign of infection, which can be COVIDA or another disease. Keep in mind: Using a forehead thermometer in direct sunlight and testing a baby who has been running or overheating can give him an inaccurately high temperature.

  • Not definitely. Researchers studied whether mothers could accurately determine if the baby had a fever when touching them. Mothers have correctly determined that the baby has a fever 79% of the time and that the fever does not increase in 99% of cases. Bottom line: using touch is a good first test, but it’s best to confirm the temperature with a thermometer whenever possible.

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