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Why You Need a Thermometer

“Do you have a fever?” It is a simple question, with a simple answer. Either your body temperature is elevated or it isn’t. But, so often, when I ask this of someone or ask it about one of their children, the answer is, “yes.” “What was it?” I will ask (because it matters) and the answer will be, “Oh, I didn’t actually take it. I just had chills,” or “I was sweating,” or “He feels warm,” or “She looked like she has a fever.” Sorry, not good enough and really not helpful. Of course, there are times when it is obvious, when you hug your child and feel like you are going to get burned, or your partner crawls into bed with you and it feels like an oven. But, usually then, people somehow get their hands on a thermometer because they are worried about how high the fever might be.

Generally, putting a hand or lips on someone’s forehead is a flawed system. We all feel warm, and at different times of the day, we may feel warmer than at other times. Different parts of our body can be warmer than other parts. The hand you use to check for a fever may be cold or warm and may affect your subjective judgement. We can get sweaty and chills just from being sick, and it isn’t always indicative of a fever. Get a thermometer. Know where it is. Use it when you think someone has a fever or before calling a health care provider.


  • Knowing someone’s temperature and how it responds to anti-pyretic (anti-fever) medication can help in making a diagnosis, which can help in formulating a treatment plan.

  • Knowing someone’s temperature can help determine if the illness is improving or worsening, based on the peak temperature and how it changes over the course of hours or days.

  • High fevers can be dangerous. The number matters.

  • A fever usually indicates a more serious illness, and indicates you should stay away from other people to avoid spreading germs.

  • Children should be fever free for 24 hours before going back to school.

With a pacifier thermometer, your baby wont even realize you’re taking their temp.

The Mayo Clinic describes the different types of thermometers and which you should choose. I like having an oral and ear thermometer on hand. I use the ear for a quick check and the oral to get a more accurate reading.

About Dr. Karen Latimer

I’m a family physician now struggling to take care of a bunch of kids who keep calling me Mom. When I’m not wiping butts, refereeing sibling rivalry and chauffeuring over-scheduled little people, I write a family medical blog that gives you five thoughts on all sorts of different health topics.

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