Vital Signs – Body Temperature



Monitoring Vital Signs and Understanding Core Body Temperature


Most people consider the average body temperature to be 98.6oF (37oC). Normal, however, is a range throughout the day based on your activity and can also be influenced by things like menstrual and sleep cycles. As a result, healthy adults’ normal body temperatures may fluctuate by as much as 0.9oF-1.8oF (0.5oC to 1oC).

Environment Affects Body Temperature    

Many external factors can cause a person’s body temperature to change. For example, being with hot lights or air conditioning can cause your family member’s body temperature to go up or down a degree. If a fever is present, a cold compress against pulse points may lower it. A lukewarm bath or room temperature bath may also be helpful.   If they are cold, drinking warm liquids and adding blankets can help to warm them up.
One word of caution, some individuals have medical conditions where their body temperatures do not self-regulate. That means their bodies take on their surroundings’ temperature and do not adjust internally to make them warmer or cooler. My husband has MS, and his body is like that. I must carry extra layers of clothing and things to cool him off for extremes in either direction to bring his body temperature back to where it sometimes needs to be.

Knowing your family member’s vital signs in an emergency can help you determine the care needed.

Another oddity for him is that his temperature does not go up with infections; it goes down. Rather than spike (increase) a fever, he becomes hypothermic (his body temperature becomes lower than normal). When he is ill, I must watch his temperature to see if it starts to drop. He normally has a body temperature of 97.6. Once it starts dropping into the 96 range, I have to keep a close eye on it because if it hits 95, he needs to be in the hospital on a heating blanket to get his internal core temperature heated up. It probably means he is septic (has a blood infection) and needs antibiotics. His skin usually feels cold, but he may be alert until he hits 95.

Tips for Taking Temperatures

Body temperature can be taken orally, rectally, under the arm, in the ear, against the forehead, using chemical dots, or internally using specialized equipment.

  • Apply a covering to the rectal thermometer and lubricate it before inserting one into the rectum. Hold it in place for the duration it takes to record the temperature. Taking a rectal temperature should be avoided in anyone with blood clotting issues due to the possibility of the thermometer causing bleeding when inserted. It can also be a means of spreading infection if it encounters fecal material due to improper cleaning.
  • When taking an oral temperature, you must wait 15 minutes after the person eats or drinks anything hot or cold, smokes, or chews gum to get an accurate temperature reading. The thermometer then goes into a pocket under the tongue toward the back. It should not lie in front of the mouth.
  • When using an ear thermometer, make sure the lens is clean before using it. Wait 20 minutes for the ear’s internal temperature to return to normal if the person has been lying on that ear. You may get an inaccurate reading if there is too much ear wax in the ear canal.


Follow these links to  videos showing how to perform a temperature:
6 Ways to Take a Temp 

Lippincott Nursing Procedures (2019) 8th Ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 736.

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