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Fundamental Nursing Skills – Taking Oral Temperature

Taking an Oral Temperature

GENERAL INFORMATION:

What is it? An oral temperature (temp-ruh-cher) is when the mouth is used to take a person’s temperature. A temperature measures body heat. A thermometer (ther-mom-uh-ter) is used to take a temperature in the mouth. A person should be 5 years or older to have a temperature taken in the mouth.

Why do it? You may need to take an oral temperature to learn if you or a family member have a fever. Fever is a sign of an illness or infection. The normal oral temperature for adults is 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C). The normal oral temperature for a child is 96 degrees to 100.4 degrees F (35.5 degrees to 38 degrees C).

What kind of thermometer is used to take an oral temperature? There are 2 kinds of thermometers used to take an oral temperature. You can buy thermometers at grocery, drug or medical supply stores.

Glass thermometer:

A glass thermometer can also be called a mercury (mer-kure-e) thermometer. A thermometer is a small glass tube with a silver line inside which is mercury. Mercury is a chemical. There is a silver bulb at one end of the thermometer which holds the mercury. There may also be an arrow pointing to the normal line of 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C). As the mercury warms it moves up the glass tube. Inside the thermometer is a scale of numbers. The numbers are your temperature.

Exposure to the mercury from a broken glass mercury thermometer can be very harmful. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that thermometers that have mercury in them should no longer be used because of the harm mercury may cause. You can dispose of your mercury thermometer at a local hazardous waste site in your area. If you have a glass mercury thermometer and it breaks do not throw it into the trash. Do not touch the thermometer or the mercury. To find out what to do if your glass mercury thermometer breaks contact the following:

Local Poison Control Center
Phone: 1-800-222-1222

Digital thermometer: This is a small hand-held device with a “window” which shows the temperature in numbers. There are many kinds of digital thermometers. Carefully read the instructions before using your digital thermometer.

How do I use a glass thermometer? There should not be anything hot or cold in the mouth for 10 minutes before taking a temperature.

Take the thermometer out of its holder.

Hold the thermometer by the end opposite the silver bulb tip.

Shake the thermometer downward several times.

Turn the thermometer in your hand until you see the silver mercury line. The mercury line should read less than 96 degrees F (35.6 degrees C). If the mercury line reads more than 96 degrees F (35.6 degrees C), firmly shake the thermometer again. You may want to shake the thermometer over a couch or bed. This will keep it from breaking if it slips out of your hand.

Clean the thermometer with soap and warm water or rubbing alcohol. Rinse with cool water.

With the person’s mouth open, put the end with the silver bulb under the tongue.

Close the lips gently around the thermometer. Do not bite the glass thermometer.

Keep the thermometer under the tongue for 3 minutes.

Remove the thermometer without touching the silver tip of the bulb.

Gently wipe the thermometer with a tissue.

Hold the thermometer at eye level.

Slowly turn the thermometer until you see the silver mercury line. Each long line is the same as 1 degree. Short lines are the same as 0.2 degree.

Your caregiver may want you to keep a temperature record. Write your temperature down each time you take it.

Wash the thermometer with soap and warm water. Do not use hot water because it may break the thermometer.

How do I use a digital thermometer? There should not be anything hot or cold in the mouth for 10 minutes before taking a temperature.

Take the thermometer out of its holder.

Put the tip into a throw-away plastic cover if one is available. If you do not have a cover, clean the pointed end (probe) with soap and warm water or rubbing alcohol. Rinse with cool water.

With the person’s mouth open, put the covered tip under the tongue.

Close the lips gently around the thermometer.

Keep the thermometer under the tongue until it beeps.

Remove the thermometer when numbers show up in the “window.”

Read the numbers in the window. These numbers are your temperature.

Your caregiver may want you to keep a temperature record. Write your temperature down each time you take it.

Remove the throw-away cover.

Place the thermometer back in its holder.

CARE AGREEMENT:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn how to take an oral temperature. You can then discuss your treatment options with your caregiver. You can work with him/her to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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