Is 98.2 Degrees Fahrenheit the New Normal?

English: Medical mercury-in-glass thermometer ...

Glass Thermometer

Although Carl Reinhold August Wunderlich (1815-1877) introduced body temperature into hospital charts and believed that a high fever was not a disease but a symptom, his analysis of the average oral body temperature is no longer believed to be the 98.6 F he reported.

Allowing for a healthy normal range, and the fact that body temperature is affected by time of day, and whether someone is hungry, sleepy, cold or jet-lagged, to say nothing of where the temperature measurement is taken, oral, internal or ear, since the 1990s scientists have pegged the average oral temperature at 98.2 F, not 98.6 F.

I’ve always been dead-on at 98.6 F, so assumed I was just healthy. My husband, by contrast, has always warned doctors and hospital personnel that his average runs a little low.

Perhaps his is the one closer to normal.

Do You Still Have a Glass Thermometer?

Glass thermometers, with their danger of breaking and releasing their toxic mercury, are being phased out.

Replacing them are digital thermometers, which can still be used orally, or under the armpit. Also available, but a little more expensive, are digital ear thermometers.

This is what you are likely to see in the pediatrician’s office, but they are available for home use also.

Arm or Ear?

When we lived in Argentina in the mid-70s, the armpit thermometer was common there.

I’d never seen one before.

Except for understanding that the temperature is going to be a little lower than for an oral thermometer (97.7 F), they seemed especially easy to use with children.

Today they are being used with infants as young as three months.

If I had an infant today, I’d likely use the digital ear thermometer.

It is a small, hand-held device, with a throw-away cover for the tip, that is inserted gently just inside the outer ear.

With this device, you can expect temperatures to run a little higher than an oral reading (96-100 F).

What About Digital Strips?

When one son was young, I tried the digital strips.

They have the advantage that a child does not have to hold still for three minutes with a thermometer in their mouth and that you can read the strip easily.

They have the disadvantage that they’re not very accurate. Reports suggest they may be as much as two degrees off.

I found them not to be much more useful than putting a hand on my son’s forehead and eventually abandoned them.

How do your children take your grandchildren’s temperature?

Have they advised you about what is the normal range to look for?

Do you still have any glass and mercury thermometers?

To you and making your grandchildren’s lives healthier.

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Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Click here to order my book, a series of interviews offering affectionate, candid advice from one generation to the other on raising grandchildren, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers”