Every Parent Needs One!
Today, just about every home medicine cabinet is equipped with at least one thermometer. And reporting a temperature reading to the doctor is usually a parent's first step when a child becomes ill. Interestingly, fever itself is not an illness. Instead, it is a symptom that indicates that the body is working to fight off an infection. Having accurate information about how this healthy response of the immune system is working (along with careful consideration of other symptoms) helps a doctor diagnose the underlying illness. For many years the mercury thermometer set the standard for home use. But gradually, new types of thermometers have been developed to offer temperature-taking options. Some are faster, more accurate, more comfortable for the patient, or easier to use.
Taking a Temperature-Reading
The Mouth: Oral readings can be obtained using either a mercury-glass thermometer or a digital model. Positioning the thermometer under the tongue is one of the oldest and most familiar methods of temperature-taking.
For this reason, the oral temperature reading is considered the standard, and temperatures taken by all other methods are adjusted to their "oral equivalent."
For parents to take accurate oral readings, children need to be old enough to hold the thermometer under their tongues, with their mouths closed. They must also be able to understand that they cannot bite down on the thermometer. Most children are not ready for this oral temperature-taking until age four or five.
The pacifier thermometer is a valid, non-invasive oral temperature taker for children (newborn to age five) who will accept pacifiers. One pacifier thermometer even plays a lullaby whenever fever is detected.
The Rectum: Although rectal readings involve some discomfort and awkwardness, they are often the method of choice for taking the temperature of an infant or young child. In fact, many pediatricians consider rectal readings the "gold standard" of temperature-taking. Like oral models, rectal thermometers are available in both mercury-glass and digital models. Rectal readings are usually one degree higher than temperatures taken orally.
The Ear: Tympanic (ear) thermometers are electronic devices which measure the infrared radiation emanating from the eardrum. Since the eardrum is close to the hypothalamus (often called the body's thermostat), readings are considered accurate – but only if the device is positioned with absolute precision.
The Underarm: The underarm is the least invasive site for temperature-taking. Axillary (underarm) thermometers measure body temperature in the very center of the underarm, with a high degree of accuracy. They are available in glass-mercury, digital, and electronic/infrared models. Underarm readings are usually one degree lower than temperatures taken orally.
The most advanced electronic models make this conversion automatically. These sophisticated underarm thermometers employ advanced infrared technology to take a succession of rapid readings. They then utilize an internal computer to calculate body temperature with a level of speed and accuracy that is unavailable with other devices. Electronic/infrared underarm thermometers have been used in neonatal and pediatric intensive care units in hospitals around the world and are now available for home use.
What is a "normal" temperature? Most of us have been taught that a normal temperature is always 98.60F (37.00C). However, medical research has proven that "normal" temperature varies from person to person and that in every individual, temperature fluctuates throughout the day. And so, there is no one ideal or "normal" temperature. In reality there is a "normal temperature range," and each individual's pattern of "normal" will vary slightly within that range.
In order to pinpoint the "normal" temperature range for any individual, it's a good idea to take benchmark readings when that person is well. In that way, if the person gets sick, it will be possible to discuss temperature with the doctor in terms of what is typically a normal temperature range for that individual.
Conditions such as hot weather, strenuous exercise, or excessively warm clothing can all make a person's "normal" temperature rise. Bathing can also affect body temperature, so it's always a good idea to wait about half an hour after a bath or shower to take a temperature reading.
Debbie Levenson is the Vice President of Care & Safety for The First Years, Inc.