What is a fever?
You probably have a fever if your temperature is 38°C or higher.
A normal temperature is around 36-37°C, although it depends on your age, what you’ve been doing, the time of day and how you take the measurement.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the fever Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
A high temperature is normally caused by:
- viral respiratory infections, like colds and flu
- ear infections
- a disease
- urinary tract infection
What should I do when I have a fever?
If you have a high temperature there are several things you can do to help manage the condition:
- it's important to stay well hydrated so drink plenty of clear non-alcoholic fluids
- ice blocks or iced drinks may be soothing
- wear lightweight clothing and avoid using blankets, doonas or quilts in bed as this may make you too hot and increase your temperature
- keep the room at a comfortable temperature
- rest and avoid heavy activity until your symptoms go away
- avoid cold baths or sponging — this can actually make you or your child feel more uncomfortable
- see your doctor if your fever doesn't go away or you are concerned
If you are caring for a sick child, go here for information about fever and high temperature in children or view this infographic.
What are the best fever medicines?
There is no need to take medicines for fever unless you are experiencing discomfort.
If you are experiencing discomfort, consider:
Before taking any medicine, you should check that it's safe to take them:
- with any medical conditions that you may have
- with any other medicines that you are taking
- if you are pregnant or breastfeeding
You can do this by reading the information leaflet inside the packet or asking a pharmacist.
If a child under 5 has a fever but isn't showing any signs of distress, the best advice is not to give them any medicine. Talk to your doctor or visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website for more information.
How do I take someone's temperature?
You can take someone's temperature quickly and easily using a thermometer. Make sure the thermometer is clean and read the manufacturer's instructions first.
You can buy a thermometer from a chemist or supermarket.
We recommend using a digital thermometer if available. Digital thermometers can be used to take someone's temperature from either armpit.
When taking an armpit reading:
- Put the thermometer directly against the skin under the arm.
- Hold the arm gently against the body.
Check the manufacturer's instructions to find out how long you need to leave the thermometer in place.
Taking a child’s temperature
If you’re taking a child’s temperature, stay with them during the reading and put the thermometer away afterwards so they do not play with it.
What types of thermometer are there?
Ear thermometers are quick and easy to use, but they are expensive, and may not be accurate if the thermometer is not correctly placed in the ear. Read the manufacturer’s instructions to find out how to place the thermometer in the ear and how long the reading will take.
Strip-type thermometers, which you hold on the person’s forehead, are not an accurate way of taking their temperature.
Mercury-in-glass thermometers are no longer used in hospitals, and are not available to buy. They can break, releasing small shards of glass and highly poisonous mercury. You should not use mercury thermometers. If anyone is exposed to mercury, seek medical advice quickly by calling the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.
When should I see my doctor?
See a doctor right away if your child has a fever and they are under 3 months, or if they are getting sicker, are drowsy and unresponsive, seem dehydrated or won’t drink, are vomiting, have a stiff neck or seem very distressed.
Adults with a fever should see a doctor straight away if they have a severe headache, sensitivity to bright light, unusual skin rash, stiff neck, vomiting, confusion, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, a seizure or confusion.
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Last reviewed: September 2020