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How to use a thermometer to take your body temperature

Taking your body temperature properly can help you assess your health. Here are some guidelines for doing it right.

Finding the Right Thermometer

There are three main types of thermometers available:

  • The manual thermometer works on the principle that matter expands when heated, which pushes the mercury up the tube. It should be noted that mercury is a toxic substance, which can be dangerous if the glass breaks. Some of the newer manual thermometers use colored alcohol rather than mercury.
  • The basal thermometer, often used in charting ovulation cycles, this thermometer is digital and its purpose is to take your body's temperature before you get active. Activity can affect temperature so obtaining a basal temperature more accurately isolates any increase due to illness.
  • The tympanic thermometer is inserted into the ear and measures the temperature of the eardrum, or tympanic membrane. The tympanic membrane should exhibit the most accurate temperature as it shares its blood supply with the brain's hypothalamus, which regulates body temperature.

The Right Way to Take Your Body Temperature

How to take your temperature properly depends on the type of thermometer. A manual thermometer can be used in the mouth, the armpit or the rectum. Always sterilize the thermometer with rubbing alcohol prior to and after each use.

When used orally, slide the manual thermometer under the tongue and hold your lips closed around the thermometer. Wait five minutes before reading the temperature. If taking your temperature under your armpit, ensure the bottom tip of the thermometer is in the middle of the armpit and gently clamp your arm against your body to hold the thermometer for five minutes before reading. Add one degree to this temperature to arrive at the actual temperature. When taking temperature rectally, insert the thermometer two-thirds of the way into the rectum and wait five minutes before reading. Subtract one degree from a rectal temperature reading to arrive at your correct body temperature.

A basal thermometer can be used in the same ways as a manual thermometer. Most basal thermometers come with plastic sleeves for sanitation purposes, but if yours does not, sterilize it with rubbing alcohol before and after each use. Basal thermometers will beep once they read a steady temperature.

With a tympanic thermometer, pull the earlobe away from the head and insert thermometer gently until the tip is touching the eardrum. Hold the thermometer steady until it beeps.

What is a Normal Body Temperature?

Normal adult body temperature is 98.6 degrees, but normal body temperatures can also vary by a degree or so from person to person, so it's a good idea to know what your normal healthy body temperature is. A low body temperature or a high one can indicate illness. The body temperatures of babies are higher than adults, around 99. It is even more important to accurately assess a baby's temperature, as temperatures over 102 can cause seizures.

By Angie Mohr

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