From a clinical standpoint, most physicians recognise body temperatures higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit as a true fever. But what happens if you check your temperature and find that your thermometer reading isn’t quite as pronounced?
According to Ellen Foxman, a physician, it can be difficult to make sense of the gray area that exists between a normal body temperature and the ‘textbook definition’ of burning up. A mild fever by itself could mean that you’re getting sick, but there are also other explanations that are usually no cause for concern.
Fevers are a system-wide reaction to inflammation in the body. Sunburns, for instance, are an inflammatory response to skin damage, which might also cause someone to have a fever. Extreme cases of physical overexertion could theoretically cause body temperature to increase. Emotional stress, digesting a meal and ovulation in women also have also been known to temporarily knock body temperature a little out of whack.
Making matters more complicated, what’s considered a normal body temperature to begin with varies from person to person. Some people naturally run a little lower or higher than the 98.6 F benchmark we’re all familiar with.
Studies have also found that the average body temperature is lower today than 150 years ago, and is now at 97.5 F. Generally, men tend to have lower temperatures than women. And as we age, our average body temperature may decrease. But even with these individual variations, a true fever is still 100.4 F and above.
Most people’s temperature also can fluctuate slightly based on the time of day — typically it’s lower in the morning, higher in the afternoon and lower again around bedtime.
The device used to take temperature, and where it’s applied on the body, also matter. Studies have found that rectal thermometers are the most accurate measurement of the body’s temperature. But there are reasonably accurate alternatives. Oral thermometers and ear thermometers provide more accurate temperature readings as compared to armpit or temple thermometers.
In general, people should rely less on the number they see on a thermometer and more on how they feel in general, Foxman says. In the midst of a pandemic, it’s especially important for people to be in tune with how they’re feeling.
However, plenty of people get infected and never show symptoms or develop a fever. The CDC has estimated that 40 percent of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. That’s why everyone must take precautions that can protect others, like wearing a mask and socially distancing.
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