Your body temperature can reveal a lot about your health. Body temperature is one of the important vital signs that doctors are always checking . An infection can cause fever, but body temperature can also vary depending on your gender, age, and even changes when you tell a lie.

Read on to learn more about standard body temperature, fever, and other factors that affect your body temperature .

1. What is considered normal body temperature?

The normal body temperature is usually seen in a range of 36.5 and 37.5 ° C . This “normal” body temperature can vary within this range and the temperature that is normal for you may be slightly higher or lower than your average body temperature.

Your body is always adapting its temperature in response to environmental conditions. For example, your body temperature rises when you exercise. And if you check your temperature with a thermometer, you will see that it is higher in the late afternoon and at night than it is first thing in the morning when you wake up.

Babies and young children have a higher body temperature than older children and adults, because the surface area of ​​their bodies is larger in relation to their weight, and their metabolism is more active. Newborns generally have an average body temperature of 37.5 degrees C.

2. What is a fever?

Fever is a temporary increase in body temperature and is often caused by illness. A rectal, ear, or temporal artery (forehead) temperature of 38 degrees or higher usually indicates a fever. The fever usually goes away in a few days. If you have a fever, you may also experience the following symptoms:

  • Chills and shaking
  • Perspiration.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle pains.
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability.
  • Dehydration
  • General weakness

For adults, having a body temperature of 39.4 degrees C or higher can be a cause for concern and warrants a call to your doctor . Also be sure to call your doctor if, along with the fever, you have a severe headache; an unusual skin rash; unusual sensitivity to bright light; stiff neck and pain when tilting the head forward; mental confusion; persistent vomiting; shortness of breath or chest pain; abdominal pain or pain when urinating; or seizures.

For babies and young children, a temperature that is only slightly higher than normal could be a sign of a serious infection. 

Call your doctor if your child is younger than 3 months and has a rectal temperature of 38 degrees C or higher; is 3 to 6 months old and has a rectal temperature of up to 38.8 degrees C and appears uncharacteristically irritable, lethargic, or uncomfortable, or has a temperature greater than 38.8 degrees C; or if you are between 6 and 24 months old and have a rectal temperature greater than 38.8 degrees C that lasts for more than one day.

If your child is 2 years old or older, call your doctor if they have had a fever for more than 3 days or if they do not respond.

Young children 6 months to 5 years old may experience febrile seizures if they have a high body temperature, which usually involves loss of consciousness and shaking of the limbs on both sides of the body. 

Seek emergency medical attention if a seizure lasts longer than five minutes, or take your child to the doctor as soon as possible after the seizure to find out what caused it.

3. Fever can help you fight an infection

Most people are concerned about a fever, but it can actually be very helpful. Several over-the-counter medications can reduce fever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), but sometimes it is best left untreated. 

This is because fever seems to play an important role in helping your body fight infection. Still, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic if he suspects a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia or strep throat. 

4. What body temperature should you watch out for when it comes to coronavirus?

Fever is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) . Low body temperature is not a symptom of COVID-19. 

If you think you may have been exposed to the new coronavirus, the CDC recommends that you take your temperature twice a day to see if you have a fever. The CDC defines a fever as 38 degrees C or higher. If you have a child under the age of 4, use an ear thermometer to measure his temperature or place a regular thermometer under your child’s arm in the center of the armpit. 

If your child’s armpit temperature is 37.4 degrees C or higher, he has a fever.

5. As we age our body temperature decreases

If you find that you are always cold, even on hot summer days, it could be your age. Studies have shown that as we age, our average body temperature drops slightly. 

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing that measured the body temperature of 133 nursing home residents found that body temperature was below average in those 65 to 74 years old; it was even lower in people aged 75 to 84; and it was in the lowest among those over 85, some of whom had a body temperature of 34.16 degrees C under normal circumstances.

This is important to know, because older people can get a fever at lower temperatures than younger adults.

6. Men and women have different body temperatures

In one study , researchers from the University of Utah, USA found that the normal body temperature of women is, on average, 0.2 degrees higher than that of men (36.5 vs. 36.3). But women’s hands are 1.5 degrees C cooler than men’s on average – 30.6 degrees C, compared to 32.2 degrees C for men.

7. A hat may not be enough to help you retain body heat.

Remember when your mom told you to wear a hat when it’s cold outside, because most of the body heat is lost through the head? It turns out that his advice may not have been entirely correct, according to an article in the medical journal BMJ . 

Studies have shown that there is nothing special about your head when it comes to heat loss: any part of your body that is not covered loses heat and will reduce your core body temperature proportionally.

8. Telling a lie can cause your temperature to change

Telling lies will not make your nose grow, but it will make it colder. Despite this discrepancy with the old story for children, researchers at the University of Granada in Spain called their findings the “Pinocchio effect.” 

In a study published in April 2018 , thermal imaging was used to show that anxiety triggered by a lie causes the temperature of the nose to drop and the temperature of the areas around the forehead to rise.

9. Red pepper can increase body temperature

Do you like spicy food? With them you can raise your body temperature and speed up your metabolism. A study published in Physiology and Behavior had participants add about 1 gram of red pepper to their food. Her core body temperature increased, but her skin temperature dropped. 

The study authors theorize that this increased heat production coupled with decreased appetite sensations demonstrates a potential benefit of consuming red bell peppers for people trying to control their weight, especially those who generally don’t consume spicy foods.

10. A fresh heart can protect your brain

The therapeutic hypothermia is a type of treatment that is sometimes used for people with heart failure (when the heart stops suddenly). Once the heart starts beating again, doctors use cooling devices to lower the patient’s body temperature to around 31.6 to 33.8 degrees C. 

Lowering body temperature immediately after cardiac arrest can reduce damage to the brain and increase the chances that the person will recover.

11. Body temperature can help determine time of death

After people die, they no longer produce body heat, and the body slowly cools down. This process is called algorith mortis (Latin for “the coldness of death”). Algor mortis has been used as a tool in forensic investigations to estimate how long it took from the person’s death until the body was discovered. 

But several factors affect body temperature, so it is not a totally reliable or accurate technique.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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