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Taking the right temperature
A reddened face often indicates a fever in children – or does your offspring just have a high temperature? To check this, it is not enough to put your hand on his forehead. We asked the pediatrician Dr. Jörg Niederle from Geldern which measuring methods and fever thermometers are suitable.
In which situations should parents take a temperature?
If the child’s face and hands feel unusually hot, parents should definitely take a temperature. Often, it is really just an elevated temperature that will pass on its own. However, it can also happen that the forehead and hands are cool and the child still has a high fever. If he obviously feels bad or has signs of illness such as headache, vomiting, diarrhea, cold or respiratory problems, parents should therefore measure his body temperature in any case.
At what temperature is a child considered to have a fever?
For children, different guideline values apply than for adults. They can have an increased body temperature without being ill. For them, the normal temperature is half a degree to 0.8 degrees higher. In infants, it even goes up to 37.7 degrees. A short-term increase in temperature, for example after physical exertion, excitement or sunbathing, is quite normal in children and usually has nothing to do with an illness.
Sometimes a child has an elevated temperature if he or she has not drunk enough. For example, in very hot weather or during diarrhea. Concerned parents should therefore initially check every hour to see whether the temperature is returning to normal. A child is said to have a fever when the temperature reaches 38.3 degrees.
If it persists for more than 24 hours or climbs above the 39-degree mark, a doctor should check on the little patient.
Which measuring method is best for children?
Taking a fever should be a way to check how warm it is inside the body. This is because from about 41 degrees, the brain and other important organs can no longer function properly. The most accurate way to measure is in the buttocks. There are special children’s thermometers for this purpose with a shorter or flexible tip that can be inserted easily. To make it glide better, you can moisten the tip or smear it thinly with Vaseline. Parents should make sure that they push the thermometer tip to about one centimeter behind the sphincter. For infants, hold the legs with one hand and the thermometer with the other.
Older children often resist this rectal fever measurement. Schoolchildren can therefore also measure in the mouth under the tongue. It is important that the tongue rests on the thermometer as a lid. The child must keep the mouth closed during the measurement time and breathe through the nose. Since there is a risk of biting the thermometer and breaking it in the mouth, glass thermometers are not suitable.
It becomes especially dangerous with glass mercury thermometers. Taking a fever under the arm is very inaccurate. There you measure the temperature of the skin, which is 0.5 to one degree below the actual core body temperature. In addition, the thermometer can quickly slip out of the armpit or lie awkwardly in a fold of skin.
What do you think of the newer methods of measurement – such as those that involve taking the temperature in the ear?
Ear thermometers have become quite popular. They are fast and particularly practical for small children. In just a few seconds, they use infrared to measure the body temperature in the inner ear. However, because the human ear has a kinked ear canal, it’s easy to end up measuring the temperature in the ear canal rather than the eardrum further inside.
So it is important that parents use this thermometer very accurately. Easy, safe and also very fast, in my opinion, it can be measured with the new forehead or temple thermometers: The blood temperature is measured in the large temporal artery. The pediatrician will be happy to explain how to use them correctly. It is important to know in advance exactly where this artery runs in each child. I don’t think much of the straps that are placed on the child’s forehead and that change color depending on the temperature. They can – just like the laying on of hands – only give estimated values.
How often and for how long should a fever be taken?
If a child really has a fever, parents should check the progress every hour and note the values for the doctor. The duration of measurement depends on the type of clinical thermometer. Conventional glass or digital thermometers take about three minutes until the measuring tip has taken the body temperature. Newer digital thermometers give a signal when they have detected the highest value. By the way, to get comparable results, you should always measure at the same place.
Small thermometer lexicon:
mercury-free and unbreakable; if the battery is intact, it measures reliably in about 1-2 minutes with end signal; disinfect after measuring.
contain mercury or colored alcohol; not suitable for children due to risk of breakage; knock down display column before measuring, then disinfect.
Infrared ear thermometer:
digital, measuring fever in the ear within seconds; with disposable protective caps to prevent infection; exact handling required, which is not easy, especially with children’s ears.
measures temperature in the mouth in about 3 minutes; requires that the child accept the unfamiliar pacifier; difficult to clean.
Forehead or temple thermometer:
digital, quick-second fever measurement at the temple and therefore particularly suitable for children; requires precise handling.
thin measuring strips for the forehead; not very accurate and only useful for initial fever assessment.