The Altons at Doom and Bloom Medical have an article up on fever – what is it? Why does it happen? What should you do about it?
COVID-19 is running rampant throughout the globe. Contagious and sometimes deadly, it’s likely to cause severe illness in millions and ruin economies before it’s done.
You probably know the classic symptoms: Fever (also known as “pyrexia“) occurs in 88 percent of cases, followed by a dry cough. One in five or six go on to develop pneumonia. Of these, a percentage will succumb to the disease. You should know about these symptoms and others associated with COVID-19 and other infections. Today we’ll discuss fevers.
Why do we get fevers when we’re sick? There seems to be a body of evidence that suggests a higher body temperature kills many viruses and bacteria that do just fine at a normal temperature (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Fever is a weapon against disease-causing organisms.
What constitutes a fever? An elevated body temperature, of course, but how high? In medical school, I learned that it wasn’t a fever until you hit about 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. This equals 38 degrees Celsius. In older people, the immune system is often too weak to mount that high a temperature. Any elderly person at 99.6 or so should be considered as “febrile” (having a fever).
Your temperature is a fluid statistic, however. In the morning, it is lower than it is in the late afternoon or evening, sometimes by a degree or more. The temperature also varies dependent on the method used to measure it.
In the past, people used mercury thermometers. These were made of glass and required no battery, a useful item long-term off the grid. Unfortunately, they could break, causing cuts and dispersing mercury (a toxic substance).
Today’s thermometers are electronic and non-toxic. There are various types on the market that use the mouth, armpit, rectum, ear, and forehead. Compared to the standard normal oral temperature of 98.6 degrees, you can expect:
- A normal armpit reading to be one half to one degree lower (97.6)
- A normal rectal temperature to be one half to one degree higher (99.6)
- A normal temperature using an ear thermometer to be one half to one degree higher (99.6)
- A normal forehead scanner (such as those used in many airports) temperature to be one half to one degree lower (97.6)
So, if a person’s temperature is 100.4 F orally, it could be 99.4 in the armpit or forehead and 101.4 in the rectum or ear. Rectal temps are thought to be most accurate, while armpit temperatures are thought to be least accurate.
Note: An oral thermometer reading may be inaccurate if you ate or drank something recently. A precise value may not be obtainable for 15-30 minutes afterwards.
The ability to use the thermometer properly is an important factor. This isn’t difficult for adults that read the instructions, but a fussy, sick toddler may not cooperate. In this case, a rectal temperature reading may be the most accurate.
Many use the ear thermometer. This is also known as a tympanic thermometer, named after the tympanic membrane or “eardrum”. Tympanic temperature readings average about the same as rectal. To be accurate, take the temperature in both ears and use the highest reading. The reading may be artificially elevated if you have been laying on your side with your ear on a pillow. As well, it’s said that those with a very short, curved ear canal may not have reliable results. This is a tough one to tell unless you ask your doctor to take a look during an exam.
“Forehead” thermometers actually scan the temperature of the temporal artery. This item is superior to forehead strips, which are better at measuring skin temperature than body temperature. Be aware that they can be expensive.
Here’s advice from Seattle Children’s hospital on how to properly use each type of thermometer…