Here’s How To Find Out If You Have a Fever Without a Thermometer, According to Doctors

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So, it turns out that thermometers are, like, really effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that it is the most effective way to determine if someone has a fever. However, sometimes life happens, and that little device disappears from its usual perch in your junk drawer (ahem, just me?). Even though a thermometer is the best way to measure body temperature, you aren't SOL if you don't have one nearby. There are a few ways to assess whether or not you have a fever without a thermometer. So we asked experts to break down body temperature basics, discuss whether the 'hand-on-forehead' trick works, and share the best way to check for a fever without a thermometer.

Experts In This Article

First things first, 98.6º F has long been the standard guideline for a healthy body temperature, but average body temperature can actually range between 97º F (36.1º C) and 99º F (37.2º C), according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, a fever is a rise in body temperature at or above 100.4º F; however, it's not always a sign of illness, according to John Hopkins Medicine. It's simply a signal that something within your body isn't right.

"There is no accurate way to check your temperature without the use of a thermometer. Feeling the forehead and noticing it's abnormally warm may be a good sign to go to the doctor or to purchase a thermometer, but it's not a diagnostic measure alone," says Andrea Paul, MD. "There are many biological reasons why your forehead may feel warm in the absence of a fever, such as hormonal disturbances or stress."

Conversely, Dr. Paul adds that you may not notice that your forehead feels warm if you have a fever because your perception of temperature can be skewed. This can lead you to believe your forehead feels normal when your temperature is elevated, making it hard to determine an abnormality.

If you've heard that having someone else feel your forehead is slightly more reliable than doing it yourself, you're not wrong. However, enlisting help from someone else is not recommended if you are concerned about symptoms of COVID-19. Being close to someone else with COVID-19 symptoms could risk transmission, even for a brief period. But if someone does feel your head for you, the back of the hand is more sensitive than the palm, says Michael K. Newman, MD, so have the trusted individual feel your forehead or the back of your neck with the back of their hand.

So what should you do if you're feeling feverish and you're warm to the touch (or you aren't)? Assess other symptoms in your body. Common fever symptoms include sweating, chills, shivering, headache, muscle aches, loss of appetite, irritability, dehydration, and general weakness, according to the Mayo Clinic. Feeling any of these coupled with a warm body temperature could indicate that it's time to find your thermometer or call your doctor.

And if you're feeling overheated, faint, or super exhausted, you should listen to your body, too. Regardless of the presence of a fever, feeling overheated means, you should probably get some rest, shade, water, or all of the above.

Ultimately, life happens, and thermometers are not impervious to being lost, broken, or just not in the budget. One misconception, however, is that you need a fancy thermometer for better results, Dr. Paul says. As long as the batteries are working, she says that a basic drugstore oral thermometer should do the trick.

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