Your medicine cabinet should always include a good working thermometer. This is especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic as fever is one of the first signs of coronavirus infection.
If you think you’ve been exposed to the virus, keeping track of your temperature can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in your home and outside.
“The earlier you know if you have fever, or any other COVID-19 symptom, the quicker you can isolate yourself from others and contact your doctor,” says Ghazala Sharieff, MD, MBA, Scripps chief medical officer, clinical excellence and experience.
Fever is a key symptom because it indicates that your body is trying to fight an illness or infection.
Fever is defined as temperature of 100.4 Fahrenheit or above. Normal body temperature can range from 97 F to 99 F.
Don’t rely only on temperature screening to determine whether you have COVID-19. You must watch for other symptoms of coronavirus, including shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, headache and loss of taste or smell. Coronavirus symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Only further evaluation and diagnostic testing can determine if someone has COVID-19 or something else,” Dr. Sharieff says.
There may be other causes for your fever, including the common flu or a bacterial infection, such as strep throat. Also, you may not get an accurate temperature reading if you have taken a fever-reducing drug.
All thermometers are designed to give you an accurate temperature reading and must meet federal standards before they can be sold in the United States.
There are different types of thermometers — including digital, non-contact and mercury. You may have one of these already or may be shopping around for one online or at your local pharmacy. You have choices though price and availability should be considered.
You may prefer a certain type or age-appropriate thermometer, especially if you have young children. You may be interested in a special feature. For example, non-contact thermometers are in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whatever thermometer you plan to use, make sure to follow the specific instructions for using and cleaning it.
No-touch or non-contact infrared thermometers measure temperature through the forehead from a close distance in seconds. They may be used on newborns and older people.
They’re easy to use and may reduce the risk of spreading disease by allowing more physical distancing.
With this thermometer, you aim the device about an inch or so from a person’s forehead, press the scan button and watch for the temperature reading on the thermometer screen. Face masks are advised if you’re taking the temperature of someone who may be infected.
It’s important to note that no-touch thermometers are slightly less accurate than internal thermometers, which are the gold standard in healthcare.
Temporal artery thermometers work by sliding the device over the forehead. They read the infrared heat waves released by the temporal artery, which is close to the surface of the skin. Remember to clean and disinfect the thermometer in between uses.
A tympanic infrared thermometer is an ear thermometer that measures temperature in the ear drum. It’s important to place the device correctly and make sure there is no ear wax in the way. Pediatricians advise against using an ear thermometer on infants younger than 3 months.
Regular digital thermometers also use sensors to measure body temperature. These thermometers have varieties that can be placed in the rectum, mouth or armpit. They read temperature when the sensor located on the tip of the thermometer touches that part of the body.
The following thermometers are recommended as your child grows:
- Under 3 years: rectal
- 4 to 5 years: rectal, oral, armpit, tympanic
- 5 years to adult: oral, armpit, tympanic
Rectal thermometers are recommended for newborns and children up to age 3. Comfort and safety features like a flexible tip and wide base are recommended.
Armpit thermometers are not considered as accurate as other types of thermometers but can be helpful if you are unable to take your child’s temperature another way.
Oral thermometers are recommended for children 4 and over and adults. It's important to keep your mouth closed while the thermometer is in place.
Do not use a digital thermometer to take both oral and rectal temperatures.
Mercury thermometers were once widely used but are no longer recommended because they can break, and toxic mercury can escape.