Apr 27, 2020 12:00 PM

Author: Shaun Ajay

Do you find yourself placing the back of your hand on your forehead to gauge your temperature? You are not alone. High temperature is an indicator that you might be falling ill. It is also one of the more common symptoms of COVID-19.

University of Utah Health’s Nikki Gilmore, senior nursing director of ambulatory health, and Richard Orlandi, MD, chief medical officer of ambulatory health, tell us about the importance of temperature screening.

Fever and COVID-19

A fever helps fight infection and typically isn’t cause for concern. Under normal circumstances, it is recommended that you call a doctor when your temperature is over 103 degrees or if you’ve had a fever for more than three days. But because it is important to quarantine at the earliest signs of COVID-19, precautions are different during the outbreak.

“Usually we don’t consider it a fever unless it’s above 100.4 degrees,” Orlandi says. “However, with COVID-19, a temperature of more than 100.0 degrees is considered a symptom to err on the side of caution.” If your temperature is higher than 100.0, you are eligible for COVID-19 testing.

Your temperature changes throughout the day

If you are monitoring your temperature, be sure to check it at around the same time each day. It’s important to be consistent because your temperature fluctuates hour by hour.

The average body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit but varies from 97.7 to 99.5 degrees. Fluctuations are due to changes in hormonal activity over the course of the day, your environment, and physical activity. For instance, you may have a lower temperature in the morning after sleeping in a cold room, and a higher temperature after exercising or doing housework

How do you get the best temperature reading?

Just as there are factors that determine our body temperature, there are factors that affect your temperature reading. “You have to be careful with the route you’re taking,” Gilmore says. “Taking oral temperature, for example, is not accurate right after you drink coffee or eat ice cream.”

Here are tips for getting the best readings from the three most frequently used home thermometers.

Ear thermometers use infrared light to measure the temperature inside the ear canal. While they are relatively easy to use, there are certain things to watch for.

  • Placement in the ear canal is important—make sure to get into the ear canal far enough.
  • Make sure the ear is clean—too much earwax can interfere with readings.
  • Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully.

Temporal thermometers have an infrared scanner that records the temperature of the temporal artery at the forehead. They measure temperature quickly and are straightforward to use.

  • Place the sensor on the center of the forehead and slide toward the top of the ear until you get to the hairline.
  • Readings can be inaccurate if placement and motion is not carried out properly. If the measurement seems off, try again.

Oral thermometers are easy to use and inexpensive to buy but are somewhat less reliable.

  • Avoid consuming hot or cold foods prior to taking your temperature.
  • Clean with soap and warm water or rubbing alcohol before using.
  • Place under the tongue and close your mouth for one minute before removing.

“During times like this, it’s not a bad idea to have a thermometer at home,” Gilmore says.  “But it’s not critical to have one.” It can be surprising how much a hand on the forehead can tell you.

Why our health system does temperature screenings

In response to the continued management of COVID-19 at U of U Health, temperature screening using infrared and temporal thermometers will take place for anyone entering any of our hospitals or clinics.

“It’s not a perfect determinant, but it’s one more step to try and identify folks who might be at risk,” Orlandi says. “We want to protect our patients and help them feel safe when they come to visit the hospital. Our health system is taking every precautionary step to keep our community safe, including separating sick patients from healthy ones, masking symptomatic patients, and universal masking for all staff.”

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Shaun Ajay

Public Affairs

coronavirus covid-19

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