What is a normal temperature?
A normal temperature is around 37°C, although it depends on:
- the person and their age
- what they’ve been doing
- the time of day
- which part of the body you take the temperature from.
A fever (high temperature) is a temperature of 38°C or over.
A high temperature is a normal response to infection and can be a common sign of a cold or flu.
Looking after yourself
If you have a high temperature there are a number of 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
- if sponging or bathing will make you feel more comfortable use luke-warm water
- 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
- see your doctor if your fever persists or you are concerned.
Advice on medicines you can take if you have a high temperature
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.
The Australian College of Nursing advises against routinely giving medicines solely to reduce fever to children under 5 years who are showing no signs of distress. 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.
Types of thermometers
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 14 50.
Last reviewed: July 2015