HomeHealth Topics A to ZTaking Your Child's Temperature
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Taking Your Child's Temperature

By Dr. Scott Murphy

If your child feels warm, is sweating or shivering, or seems to be acting ill, you may suspect that a fever is present.  You will want to use a thermometer to determine if a fever is, indeed, present.  There are many types of thermometers on the market:

Digital thermometers are recommended for use orally, rectally or under the arm.

Mercury thermometers are no longer recommended nor considered safe for use.

There are also thermometers designed for use in the ear and across the forehead. These are not considered to be as reliable by the American Academy of Pediatrics. (It is difficult to know when there is ear wax interfering with a reading of an ear thermometer, and therefore less reliable. It can also be difficult to align the ear thermometer to measure the ear drum vice in the ear canal, again leading to inaccurate readings).

Temperatures taken rectally in young infants are considered most reliable, with axillary as second choice.  For children over age 3 years who can cooperate, an oral temperature is considered reliable.  If a child is unable to cooperate with an oral, an axillary would be next best.

Normal temperatures are generally agreed upon to be from 97 – 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Taking a rectal temperature:

Clean the end of the thermometer with rubbing alcohol or soap and hot water. Rinse in lukewarm water and dry.  Apply a small amount of Vaseline on the end.

Place the child on a steady surface such as your changing table or lap.  Lift their legs as if changing a diaper and insert the lubricated end of the thermometer into the rectum about ½ - 1 inch.  Hold the thermometer loosely and await its signal letting you know it is done.  Remove it and check the reading.  Re-clean the thermometer, as above.

Taking an oral temperature:

Wait 10 – 15 minutes after the child has had anything to eat or drink.

Clean the thermometer, turn it on, and place the tip under the tongue toward the back of the child’s mouth.  Hold gently in place until you hear the signal that it is done.

Taking an axillary temperature:

Turn on the thermometer and place the measuring tip under the armpit against the skin (not against the clothes).  Hold it gently in place until you hear the signal that it is done.  Keep your child’s arm against their side while the thermometer is reading.


Some of this information was obtained from the AAP with permission.

Topics and Subtopics: Children's Health & Cold & Flu

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