Fevers can sneak up on you when you least expect them. One minute you’re going about your day feeling fine, and the next you’re shivering under a blanket with the chills. As an unpleasant surprise, fevers always seem to show up at the most inconvenient times. But don’t worry—with a few simple techniques, you can easily figure out if you have a fever and take steps to start feeling better fast.
As your helpful guide, I’ll walk you through how to tell if you have a fever, explain what temperature readings mean, and offer some pro tips for bringing your temperature back down to normal. Stick with me, and you’ll be a fever-spotting expert in no time!
Taking Your Temperature: The Telltale Sign
When it comes to identifying a fever, taking your temperature is the surest route. Your body’s internal thermometer doesn’t lie! Using a thermometer to check your temperature will give you a clear numerical reading that eliminates any guesswork. Here are the different options for taking your temperature and getting that all-important fever check:
The old-school oral thermometers that you put under your tongue are still widely available and work great. These thermometers register your temperature quickly and accurately after about 60 seconds under your tongue.
Be sure to avoid drinking hot or cold liquids before taking an oral temperature reading. Swishing some room-temperature water around your mouth first can help you get the most precise result.
Ear thermometers, or tympanic thermometers, measure your core body temperature by sensing the infrared heat waves emitted by your eardrum. These handy devices provide temperature readouts within seconds.
The key is getting the thermometer probe securely into the ear canal so it can accurately pick up those infrared waves. Ear thermometers are a fast and easy option, but they need to be positioned just right for reliable fever detection.
Forehead thermometers, or temporal artery thermometers, glide across your forehead to quickly pick up the heat radiating from your skin’s blood vessels. They’re easy to use, but they can be less precise than oral or ear readings.
Make sure to brush the hair away from the forehead and wipe away any sweat before taking a reading. Forehead thermometers work best when your skin is clean and dry.
While less convenient, rectal thermometers placed in the anus can offer the most accurate fever reading. This method works well for babies and young children who aren’t able to keep an oral or ear thermometer in place.
Just be sure to use a digital thermometer with a rounded, flexible tip designed specifically for rectal use to prevent injury. Lubricate the tip with a water-soluble jelly for easier insertion.
No matter which thermometer type you use, be sure to thoroughly clean the instrument before and after each reading to prevent spreading germs.
Reading the Numbers: What’s Considered a Fever?
Okay, you’ve grabbed a thermometer and taken your temperature. But how do you know if that reading indicates that you actually have a fever? What numbers are cause for concern?
Here’s a breakdown of the fever thresholds according to location on the body:
- Oral temperature: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- Ear (tympanic) temperature: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- Forehead (temporal) temperature: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- Rectal temperature: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in adults, and 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in babies 3-6 months old.
So if your temperature meets or passes those benchmarks, you are officially running a fever, my friend. It’s time to start taking steps to get that temperature back down.
Now, you may be wondering: Why does our body temperature rise when we have a fever anyway? Let’s quickly discuss what’s actually going on when you get a fever.
What’s Happening When You Have a Fever?
When your immune system detects foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria, it kicks into high gear. The hypothalamus, your body’s internal thermostat in the brain, responds by raising your internal temperature to ramp up the immune response.
This heat makes it tougher for those unwelcome germs to survive and replicate. A fever stimulates your body’s white blood cells to fight off the infection more vigorously. Not comfortable for you, but very effective for knocking down the invading bugs!
This natural immune response means a fever is actually a sign your body is working hard to make you well again. While uncomfortable, most low-grade fevers under 102°F (39°C) are not dangerous and can be managed at home.
Let’s talk about some pro-social strategies for bringing down a fever safely and getting your temperature back to its happy place.
Pro Tips for Managing a Fever
When a fever strikes, you’ll want to make getting your temperature down a top priority. Here are some proven techniques for effectively managing fever symptoms:
Stay well hydrated.
Drinking plenty of fluids is key when you’re running hot. Water, diluted juices, clear broths, and decaffeinated tea are all great choices that will keep you hydrated. Popsicles are another good option if you need something cool and soothing. Avoid sugar and alcohol, which can dehydrate you further.
Shed those sweaters and sweatpants! Wear lightweight, breathable clothing so excess heat can escape. Natural fabrics like cotton that wick away sweat are ideal.
Use cool compresses.
Placing a cool, damp cloth on your forehead, wrists, armpits, and neck can help draw out some extra heat. Mist your skin with a spray bottle and use a hand fan to maximize this cooling effect.
Know when to call the doctor.
You should seek medical advice if your fever goes above 102°F (39°C), lasts more than 3 days, or is accompanied by severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, a stiff neck, or confusion. For babies 3-6 months, call your pediatrician for any rectal temperature over 100.4°F (38°C).
Take fever reducers.
Medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help lower your temperature. Follow dosing directions carefully, and never give aspirin to children due to the risk of Reye’s syndrome.
Get plenty of rest.
Listen to your body and allow extra time for sleep. Resting helps conserve your energy so your body can direct it toward fighting infections. Avoid strenuous activity until the fever passes.
Warning Signs: When to Seek Emergency Care
While most fevers are harmless, a very high fever can be dangerous and require immediate medical attention. Here are the warning signs that indicate you should get emergency care right away:
- Temperature above 103°F (39.4°C): a dangerously high fever, especially in children, that doesn’t respond to fever reducers.
- Confusion or delirium: an altered mental state can be a sign of a serious infection like meningitis. Extreme lethargy in children or difficulty waking up are red flags.
- Difficulty breathing: rapid, shallow respirations or breathing problems warrant an ER visit to rule out respiratory infections.
- Severe headaches, neck pain, and stiffness can indicate meningitis, which requires urgent care. Headache along with fever in small children under age 2 should be evaluated.
- Rash: A widespread rash, especially purplish spots, requires immediate medical care to determine if it is related to the fever’s cause.
When in doubt, it’s always better to be safe and have a doctor evaluate any fever that seems severe, unusual, or doesn’t come down with treatment. Listen to your gut; you know your body best.
Fevers in Children: Extra Precautions
As any parent knows, fevers in little ones always ratchet up your concern. Kids under six months old are especially vulnerable to the dehydration and effects of high temperatures. Here are some extra fever precautions to take with the littlest ones:
- Monitor temperatures closely with a rectal thermometer.
- Keep kids lightly dressed and well hydrated.
- Give sponge baths with lukewarm water to gently cool
- Dose acetaminophen only as directed by the pediatrician.
- Bring the child into the shower and allow the calming, warm water to cascade over the body.
- Offer cold teething rings and cool (not cold) soft wet washcloths.
- Keep the room comfortably cool and quiet for rest.
Call your pediatrician right away for guidance if your infant’s fever persists or concerns you. Don’t hesitate to get emergency help for extremely high temperatures or any breathing issues.
Feeling Feverish? Trust your senses.
Even without a thermometer on hand, your own senses can provide insight into whether or not you have a fever. Here are the common sensory signals that your body likely has a raised temperature:
- Chills/shivering: Your muscles involuntarily trembling and shaking are a telltale fever sign. Alternating chills with feeling overheated is classic.
- Body Aches: Feeling sore all over, like you’ve got the flu, can accompany fever as your body fights infection.
- Warm, flushed skin: skin that is hot to the touch and has a rosy flushed appearance indicates an elevated temperature.
- Sweating: Excessive sweating, especially at night or without exertion, is a giveaway that you have a fever.
- Lack of Appetite: Not feeling hungry at typical mealtimes can be a fever clue.
- Fatigue/Weakness: Feeling constantly tired, low energy, or too weak to get out of bed are common fever symptoms.
- Headache: Many people report headaches either before or during a fever, resulting from the dilation of blood vessels in the skull.
- General Ill Feeling: That overall sense of bodily discomfort, malaise, and poor health can be a tip-off that you’ve come down with a fever.
Bottom line: trust your own physical intuition. You know when you feel crummy and “feverish,” so take those body cues seriously and check your temperature!
I hope this overview has provided you with a helpful primer on how to tell if you have a fever and respond appropriately. The key takeaways are:
- Use thermometers to get an accurate temperature reading; oral, ear, forehead, and rectal options all work.
- Look for temperatures of 100.4°F (38°C) and above to confirm a fever.
- Fevers are the immune system’s response to germs; help it along by resting and staying hydrated.
- Employ cooling techniques like baths, ice packs, and fever reducers to get temperatures down.
- Seek emergency care right away for any severely high fevers or concerning symptoms.
- Monitor kids carefully and call a pediatrician with any worries.
- Listen to your body; shivering, sweating, and aches are fever clues.
Knowing how to tell if you have a fever can give you great peace of mind. With the strategies above, you can take charge and start feeling better quickly. Stay healthy, my friends!
1. Is it true you can’t get a fever with COVID-19?
No, that is a myth. Fevers are, in fact, a very common early symptom of COVID-19. According to the CDC, around 50–60% of people who contract the virus develop a fever, usually within 2–14 days of exposure. Monitoring for fevers over 100.4°F along with other symptoms like cough and fatigue is an important way to identify a possible coronavirus infection and avoid spreading it.
2. Can you have a fever without any other symptoms?
It’s possible, but uncommon. Most fevers occur as part of an illness that has other fever-related symptoms (chills, body aches, headaches, etc.). However, in some rare cases, like a bloodstream infection, fever may show up on its own without any other symptoms initially. If you detect an unexplained, isolated fever, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to determine if any underlying condition requires treatment.
3. How long should a fever last before calling the doctor?
For adults, contact your physician if you have a fever higher than 102°F that lasts more than 3 days without improvement. You should also reach out for any fever in adults that is accompanied by mental confusion, a stiff neck, difficulty breathing, or a worrisome rash. For infants 3-6 months old, call the pediatrician for any rectal temperature over 100.4°F (38°C) that doesn’t come down with treatment.
4. Can you have a fever without feeling hot?
Yes, it is possible to be feverish without feeling overheated or having hot skin. Some people, especially older adults, can develop a low-grade fever but report feeling chilled and cold to the touch. The only way to confirm a fever in these instances is to actually measure the temperature. Relying solely on the sensation of warmth would miss these cases. The moral of the story is: take your temperature if you feel “off”!
5. Is it safe to exercise or take a hot bath with a fever?
No, both of those activities are unsafe when running a fever. Exercising can put a strain on your heart, which is already working harder due to the increased body temperature. Hot baths or showers feel nice but cause your internal temperature to go even higher. It’s best to rest, drink fluids, use lukewarm compresses, and wait for your fever to come down before exerting yourself or taking a steamy bath. Listen to your body, and don’t overdo it until the fever has fully resolved.Tags: can you have a fever with a cold, how do you know if you have a fever, how to know if you have a fever, how to tell if you have a fever with your hand, how to tell if you have a fever without a thermometer, how to tell if you have a fever yourself, what to do if you have a fever, what to do when you have a fever