Here's What It Really Means When Your Temperature Is Over 98.6

Having a fever is a sure sign that our bodies are fighting off an infection of some kind (via Medical News Today). Many of us have a go-to way of working out whether someone has a fever. Those of us who are moms might start by touching our hands or lips on a child's forehead, or placing the palms of our hands on the mid-back. If our suspicions are confirmed, we're likely to use a thermometer to get an accurate reading, which can go in the mouth, under the armpit, into the bottom, or in the ear.

And while most of us have long been told that our temperatures should register about 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 37 degrees Celsius, the truth isn't as cut and dry as that. Our "normal" temperatures are determined by several factors, including the time of day we take our temperatures, and the type of thermometers we use (via The Cleveland Clinic). 

The Cleveland Clinic warns that an elevated temperature doesn't really mean much unless your thermometer tells you that you're hotter than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit. According to Healthline, this would be the time when you start taking steps to bring your temperature down, whether that's taking medication, drinking more liquids to stay hydrated, taking tepid baths, or taking medication like aspirin or ibuprofen

Your thermometer may not be functioning properly if your temperature is too high

If your temperature shoots past 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, but falls short of 100.4, and you are feeling fine, there could be other forces at play. Basically, a temperature reading isn't always accurate, because not all thermometers are created equal. Pediatricians even prefer ear (aural) thermometers because it gets close to the area of the body known as the hypothalamus, which sets the temperatures of our bodies (via Real Simple). 

If a temperature seems higher than it should, particularly in the case of babies and young children, medical experts advise to wait 15 to 20 minutes before taking another reading. This is especially true if they have been wearing hats or have recently been active. You may also want to avoid thermometers like forehead strips, wearable thermometers or pacifiers, none of which work properly and are likely to give you an inaccurate reading. Even ear thermometers can make mistakes, particularly when the ear canal is waxy (via Cook Children's Checkup Newsroom).

Before investing in a thermometer, read reviews and do your research, but perhaps most importantly, give the old-fashioned mercury thermometer you've had in your medicine cabinet for way too long a hard pass. Not only are they made of glass which can easily break, but they contain mercury which is toxic, so you really don't want to even take the risk (via Thought Co). Modern thermometers don't even use mercury any more, so talk to your doctor or pharmacist, and buy a reliable and safe thermometer for you and your family.