But how much do we really understand about the reading we get from that thermometer?
On The Early Show Saturday Edition, Dr. Mallika Marshall quizzed co-anchor Chris Wragge, to sort out facts and myths about fevers. You can take the quiz, too!
TRUE OR FALSE: TAKING OUR TEMPERATURE REALLY IS THE FIRST THING WE SHOULD DO WHEN SOMEONE ISN'T FEELING WELL
True! Our body temperature is very important. It's one of our "vital signs," along with blood pressure, heart rate (or pulse), and breathing rate. All are considered essential in determining whether someone is sick. If any one of them is abnormal, you should try to find out why as quickly as possible. There's so much going on in our bodies, they can't really tolerate wide swings in temperature.
WHICH OF THE FOLLOWING IS A NORMAL BODY TEMPERATURE? IS IT:
D) 99.3°F, or
E) ALL OF THE ABOVE?
The answer is E, all of the above. They are all within the normal range of body temperature when taken by mouth. We're all taught that normal body temperature is 98.6, but in truth, your body temperature changes throughout the day, varying one to two degrees from a low in the middle of the night to a high in mid-afternoon. Pregnant women and women right before ovulation have higher temperatures on average. Elderly people have lower temperatures on average, probably due to changes in metabolism.
TRUE OR FALSE: A FEVER OF 104° CAUSES BRAIN DAMAGE?
False! Fevers are the body's normal response to infection, and they turn on the immune system. Most fevers, even fevers of 104° or greater, can be helpful and not harmful. Very high fevers, say 107°-108°, that a child may develop if locked in a closed car in hot weather, can cause brain damage, but that obviously isn't your run-of-the-mill fever.
THE BEST WAY TO TAKE AN INFANT'S TEMPERATURE IS:
C) UNDER THE ARM,
D) ON THE FOREHEAD, or
E) NONE OF THE ABOVE?
The answer is A, rectally. The best way to take an infant's temperature is rectally, because it reflects the core or inner-body temperature. In infants and toddlers, the exact measurement can make a difference in how they are treated and evaluated, so it's important to get as accurate a measurement as possible to report to their pediatrician.
TRUE OR FALSE, A TEMPERATURE OF 102° IS WORSE THAN A TEMPERATURE OF 104°?
False! The exact number usually doesn't matter. A fever is a fever. The exception is in very young children. For example, in infants less than three-months old, a rectal temperature of 100.4°F or greater needs immediate medical attention.
TRUE OR FALSE: EVEN IF MY CHILD HAS A HIGH FEVER, IF HE LOOKS GOOD, HE'S PROBABLY OK
True (in most cases). Parents tend to get hung up on the fact that their child has a fever, but it's much more important to evaluate your child for other, more concerning symptoms such as: Are they having trouble breathing? Are they irritable, lethargic or difficult to arouse? Do they refuse to drink and are they getting dehydrated? Do they have a strange rash?
A happy, smiling child with a temperature of 103° is much less concerning that a listless child with a temperature of 101°. Again, the exception is babies under three-months of age.
WHICH COMMON MEDICATION SHOULD NOT BE GIVEN TO YOUR CHILD IF HE OR SHE HAS A FEVER? Tylenol, ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen or Motrin?
The answer: aspirin. If it's given to a child, certain viral infections, such as chicken pox, can cause swelling of the brain and liver, and therefore should be avoided in youngsters with fevers.
"STARVE A FEVER, FEED A COLD." IS THAT TRUE OR FALSE?
False! That is an old adage that should be ignored. Truth is, especially with fever, you tend to lose fluids quickly and are at risk of becoming dehydrated. So people with fevers should drink plenty of fluids. They may or may not want to eat. If they do, food can certainly be offered.