Different Ways to Measure Body Temperature

The normal body temperature of an adult is around 98.6°F or 37°C. Because a person’s temperature is affected by any number of internal and external factors (e.g., weather, level of stress, viruses and bacteria), it may fluctuate several times in a day. As long as it stays in the range of 97°F to 99°F (36.1°C to 37.2°C), it is still considered normal and nothing to be concerned about.


Babies and small children may have a higher than normal body temperature, especially if they are improperly dressed. They are also more immediately affected by changes in the temperature outside.


Measuring Body Temperature


There are different ways to find out if you have normal body temperature. Below are the most common ones:


  1. Thermometers

There are different kinds of thermometers available in pharmacies and supermarkets. The most common one is the digital thermometer, which has disposable probe covers. Mercury thermometers were more popular in the past, but because of the risk of glass breakage and mercury contamination, few countries make use of them now.


To take body temperature using a digital or mercury thermometer, insert the devise into any of the following areas: in the mouth (under the tongue), under the armpit, or the rectum. Some digital thermometers issue a ping to indicate that they have finished taking the temperature reading. Otherwise, keep the thermometer in the area for fifteen seconds to a minute, to make sure you get the correct temperature.


Liquid metal thermometers that are mercury-free offer an alternative way of checking for normal body temperature without putting people at risk of mercury poisoning. These are used like mercury thermometers, but contain a nontoxic liquid metal that is safe for both the user and the environment.


Glass alcohol thermometers often contain a red liquid and are another option. They provide accurate temperature readings, but they usually do not hold their readings for a very long time. If you prefer to use this kind of thermometer, make sure you check the reading as soon as possible to get the most accurate results.


There are also ear thermometers, but these are expensive and sometimes give inaccurate readings when not placed correctly in the ear. For babies and young children, the strip-type thermometer can also be used. Again, these may cause misleading readings because they often measure the temperature of the skin as opposed to the whole body.


  1. Temperature-sensitive infrared device

This is new equipment available in most pharmacies. To check for normal body temperature, simply rub the sensor against the skin. The device will automatically read the body’s temperature based on that.


A Note on Reading Body Temperature


Whatever device you use to check for normal body temperature, it is best to be consistent and use the same device in succeeding readings. There will always be discrepancies in the readings of two different devices, but using the same equipment will at least give you an accurate range of measurement. This will make it easier to compare past and present results and to see if your body’s condition is improving or getting worse.


How to Deal with Fever in Infants

The normal body temperature for infants should be between 36°C and 37°C (between 96.8°F and 98.6°F). Monitoring and taking your baby’s temperature regularly will let you detect any abnormality in temperature that might need special attention and prompt intervention. This is best practiced every day, especially on newborn babies that are yet to grow enough body fats and muscles that can help them regulate their temperature better.


If your baby’s body temperature falls below 36°C, your baby may need to be warmed up. You can either wrap him in thick blankets or use a warm bottle or compress. When using a warm compress or bottle, it should be covered or wrapped in a clean cloth because direct skin contact may cause scalding.


Your baby’s temperature will also most likely become lower than normal body temperature during days of cold weather, so it is important to ensure that he is well-wrapped and protected by warm clothing and blankets during the fall and winter, as well as on stormy or rainy days.


If your baby’s temperature falls between 37°C and 37.5°C (between 98.6°F and 99.5°F), your baby is considered to be having a low-grade temperature elevation. This is still far from a fever, but you have to perform actions that will lower your baby’s temperature a bit and prevent any possible progression to a fever. You can cool your baby down by reducing the clothes wrapped around him, or the blankets and beddings that surround him. Covering your baby lightly may correct the mild elevation in body temperature; however, you should also observe for any signs of infection like a cold or cough. If it is clear that your baby has contracted a cold or cough, this low-grade elevation may progress to a fever if prompt treatment is not administered.


A body temperature that falls between 37.5°C and 38°C (99.5°F to 100°F) is considered an elevated temperature, which is close to becoming a fever. Your baby should be checked for any sign of infection or if he is looking mildly unwell. Usually, a feverless cold or cough, a current immunization or vaccination, and hyperactivity may cause your baby’s body temperature to rise. To correct an elevated temperature and prevent a fever, your baby will need to be cooled down by giving medications for colds and coughs, tepid sponge bath, or tepid bath. These interventions should be partnered with the interventions for low-grade temperature elevations like reducing your baby’s warm clothing.


Your baby is considered to be having a fever if his temperature falls between 38°C and 38.5°C (100.4°F to 101.3°F). A fever requires medical attention because it is an indication that your baby is having an infection or illness. Fevers are usually accompanied by other physical signs and symptoms that are not normal or healthy for a baby. If your baby is having a cold or cough, medications for these problems should be given to correct the cause of the fever. Fever medications, like paracetamol, are also given in conjunction with cold and cough medications to help lower the body temperature while the cause of the fever is still being treated. A fever should not be allowed to progress because it can cause complications that may worsen your baby’s condition.


If your baby’s temperature falls between 38.5°C and 39°C (101.3°F to 102.2°F), he is considered to be having a very high temperature or high-grade fever. Fever medications should be promptly given to your baby and a tepid bath should be done while waiting for the medication to take effect. Usually, professional medical help should be sought if there is no improvement in your baby’s condition after an hour.


If your baby’s temperature reaches 39 to 40°C (102.2 to 104°F), he should be given fever medications right away and brought to a medical facility to be checked by a doctor. If it is not possible to take your child anywhere out of the house for some reason, such as a bad weather or unavailability of transportation, your best option is to call for help or consultation if the fever does not go away within a few hours after giving fever medications and tepid baths.



Managing Your Baby’s Normal Body Temperature

Humans are capable of maintaining their body temperature through thermoregulation, which is the human body’s natural mechanism for balancing body heat. Thermoregulation involves the process of cooling off through perspiration, which is the production of sweat to lessen body heat, and the process of elevating temperature by shivering and increasing metabolic activities to produce more heat.


Adult humans can maintain their normal body temperature efficiently, but it is different with babies and small children. Babies, when they are born, start off with an underdeveloped thermoregulation mechanism, so they rely solely on their caregivers in balancing their body temperature. Babies depend on their mothers’ thermoregulation during pregnancy. The maternal body temperature influences babies’ temperature and the amniotic fluid that surrounds them in the amniotic sac helps regulate the heat inside the womb. On average, the temperature maintained inside the maternal body is around 37.7°C (99.86°F).


After babies are born, their bodies are still not capable of regulating their body temperature. They can sweat when the environment is getting warmer, but they cannot shiver when it gets colder. To increase their temperature, babies may move or curl up to keep warm. Their small bodies lack adequate amounts of body fat to keep them warm, but they do rely on their special body fat called the Brown Adipose Tissue (BAT) to produce heat inside their bodies. In order to produce heat, BAT consumes the babies’ glucose and oxygen, and prolonged exposure to the cold will cause physical stress on babies as their BAT continues to work to keep them warm. That is why it is very important to keep newborn babies wrapped in warm clothing during days of cold weather.


To ensure that your baby’s temperature is kept to a healthy and normal level, you should monitor your baby’s body temperature regularly. To monitor your baby’s temperature, you will need the aid of thermometers. The best type of thermometer recommended for use with babies is the digital thermometer. Whether you suspect that your baby may have a fever or is feeling cold, it is best to take your newborn baby’s temperature every day until he has grown and gained enough body fat.


To take your baby’s temperature using the digital thermometer, follow these steps:


  • Position your baby on your lap or just lay him down on the bed.
  • Place the thermometer’s tip under the armpit.
  • Turn the thermometer on; it will automatically measure and read your baby’s temperature.
  • Hold your baby’s arm against his body to keep the thermometer in place. Usually, a digital thermometer will produce a beeping sound when the reading is done. If your thermometer is not equipped with this feature, keep it in place for some time as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • The final reading of the temperature taken will be displayed on the thermometer’s digital screen.


The normal body temperature for babies should be between 36°C and 37°C (between 96.8°F and 98.6°F). You can also use other types of thermometers, but never use glass thermometers that contain mercury. Other safe thermometers to use are tympanic (ear) thermometers and adhesive strip-type thermometers.


When taking your baby’s temperature, you must also consider factors that may alter or affect the accuracy of the thermometer’s reading. Be sure to let your baby cool down first for a while if:


  • He was wrapped tightly in a blanket.
  • He had been staying in a warm room.
  • He was very active.
  • He was cuddling a warm bottle.
  • He had just taken a bath.



High Versus Low Body Temperatures

The normal body temperature of an average adult ranges from 97°F to 99°F, with 98.6°F as its baseline. Any higher than that and a person suffers from a fever, while any lower could be a symptom of a number of different diseases.


High Body Temperature


A fever is usually a symptom of an illness. It is the body’s way of telling a person that something is wrong. When a person experiences chills, this is his immune system telling him that he has an infection or that a virus has invaded his body. It could also mean that there is an abnormality occurring in his brain or one of his organs, or that he has a tissue injury that he may not be aware of.


A small gland in the brain called the hypothalamus regulates a person’s body temperature. When the climate is cold, the hypothalamus keeps the body hot by inducing shivers. When it is hot, it keeps the body cool by opening the blood vessels near the skin to induce sweating. When fever-inducing substances called pyrogens attack the body, the immune system sends signals to the hypothalamus, which in return increases the temperature of the person in an attempt to normalize his body temperature. This often causes an uncomfortable feeling accompanied by shivers.


Pyrogens come from different sources outside the body. These include bacteria and viruses, fungi, and drugs and toxins. Viruses are the most common type of pyrogen, and usually bring with them various illnesses, like the flu. Bacteria and fungi could both cause infections and inflammations in different tissues and organs. Drugs and toxins, on the other hand, could poison the body and cause a high fever.


Low Body Temperature


Exposure to cold weather could send signals to the hypothalamus and induce shivering. This is also true when a person wears wet clothes for more than a few minutes. But aside from being caused by these external factors, a low body temperature could be a symptom of any one of these diseases: cancer, diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney or liver failure, sepsis, or Addison’s disease. It could also mean that a person is suffering from shock or insomnia. Stress could also cause the temperature of a body to drop below normal, while substance abuse such as alcohol and drugs could do the same.


A person who has a temperature that is lower than normal often exhibits uncontrollable shivering, goose bumps, and loud chattering of the teeth. Aside from these obvious signs, he may also feel drowsy or tired, experience difficulty in breathing, and show confusion and lack of coordination. His extremities, such as his fingers and toes, may turn purple or blue.


Keeping Cool or Warm


It is important for the body to maintain normal temperatures in order to function properly. A rise or drop in temperature usually causes discomfort and hampers a person’s ability to carry on with his daily tasks.


Because of this, it is advisable for a person to listen to his body whenever he feels a change in his temperature. Simple rest usually does the trick (especially when the temperature drop is caused by fatigue), as well as a change in environment (e.g., adjusting the thermostat or temperature of the air conditioning, drinking a cold glass of water).


When a person suffers from a fever for more than five days, then it is time to visit a doctor to find out what is wrong. The same goes true for chronic drops in temperature. Remember that the average temperature of adults is 98.6°F, and anything too high or too low relative to that could indicate a problem in the body that needs immediate attention.


The What and Why of Low Body Temperature

A temperature of 98.6°F is normal for an average person, give or take a few points. It may drop a few points because of the weather or when the person enters a cold room. When this temperature drops to 96.9°F and below, it is now considered a lower than normal body temperature, and may be a cause of concern.

Causes of Low Body Temperature

A lower than normal body temperature is a cause for worry because it may be a sign of an illness. An abnormal drop may mean be a symptom of any of the following diseases: Addison’s disease, cancer, diabetes, hypothyroidism, liver failure, kidney failure, or sepsis.

It could also mean that the person is suffering from too much stress and is on the verge of burnout. Another possibility is that the person has insomnia and has a hard time sleeping at night. A lower than normal body temperature may also mean that the person is in shock because of trauma. This may also lead to hyperventilation or asthma.

Low body temperature may also be a side effect of certain medications. Some people’s bodies may react negatively to their medicine and signal the hypothalamus—the temperature regulating gland of the body—to lower its temperature, causing the person to experience chills. Or it may be a symptom of alcohol or drug abuse, leading to an overdose of either.

When a person is exposed to cold, harsh surroundings, there is also the risk of his body going to shock and hypothermia. This is a dangerous state and can cause death if not attended to immediately.

Symptoms of Low Body Temperature

Most people who have lower than normal body temperature experience chills and shivering. It may also be accompanied by goose bumps, the chattering of teeth, and a slow heartbeat. The person’s extremities, particularly his fingernails and toenails, may also turn purple because the blood is having a hard time flowing through his blood vessels.

A person with low body temperature may also experience drowsiness and sudden fatigue. He may have a hard time making decisions or speaking because his words will come out slurred. Confusion is also a common symptom of low body temperature, and it may be coupled with either dilated pupils, a weak pulse, or both.

First-aid for Low Body Temperature

For some people, a lower than normal body temperature is a usual occurrence, especially if their immediate surroundings are perpetually cool. But for those who suddenly experience an abnormal drop of body temperature, it is imperative that they are given attention so that they won’t go to shock or hypothermia.

Below are some first aid remedies that anyone can apply to people who experience a lower than normal body temperature:

  1. Remove the person from a cold environment, if possible. If the person is in an air-conditioned room, turn the air conditioner off or bring the individual outside. Let him change into dry clothing if his clothes are wet.
  2. Gradually apply warmth onto the person’s body, particularly in the neck, chest, and groin area. Do not rewarm the person too quickly, because a sudden change in body temperature may cause his condition to worsen.
  3. Offer the person a non-alcoholic drink that is warm and sweet.
  4. Bring him to the nearest clinic or hospital for a checkup.