How To Take An Axillary Temperature

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW:

  • An axillary temperature (TEM-pe-ruh-cher) is when the armpit (axilla) is used to take your temperature. A thermometer (ther-MOM-uh-ter) is used to take your temperature. You may need to take an axillary temperature if you cannot take an oral, rectal, or tympanic (tim-PAN-ik) temperature. An axillary temperature may be done to look for a fever. A fever may be a sign of infection, illness or other conditions. The normal axillary temperature is usually a degree lower than the oral (under the tongue) temperature. The axillary temperature may be as much as two degrees lower than the rectal temperature. A normal axillary temperature is between 96.6° (35.9° C) and 98 °F (36.7° C).

  • There are different kinds of thermometers. A digital thermometer is a small hand-held device with a window showing your temperature in numbers. Most digital thermometers can measure your body temperature in less than a minute. Digital thermometers are available at grocery, drug, or medical supply stores. Glass thermometers with red or blue alcohol or galinstan (GAL-in-stan) with a silver-colored tip and line may also be used to check an axillary temperature.

  • In the past, mercury thermometers were used. This thermometer is a thin glass tube with a silver tip and line. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other organizations warn against using mercury thermometers. If the thermometer breaks, mercury may be breathed or absorbed (soaked) into your skin. Exposure to the mercury from a broken glass thermometer can be very harmful. 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 of your glass mercury thermometer breaks, contact the following:
  • 24-Hour Nationwide Poison Control Hotline
    National Capital Poison Center
    3201 New Mexico Avenue, Suite 310
    Washington , DC 20016
    Phone: 1- 800 - 222-1222
    Web Address: http://www.poison.org

AFTER YOU LEAVE:

Take your medicine as directed:

Call your primary healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

How do I use a digital thermometer?

Wait at least 15 minutes after bathing or exercising before taking an axillary temperature.

  • Take the thermometer out of its holder.

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

  • Put the end with the covered tip securely in your armpit. Hold your arm down tightly at your side.

  • Keep the thermometer in your armpit until the digital thermometer beeps.

  • Remove the thermometer when numbers show up in the "window".
    Digital Thermometer


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

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

  • Remove or eject the throw-away cover if you used one.

  • Place the thermometer back in its holder.

How do I use a glass thermometer?

Wait at least 15 minutes after bathing or exercising before taking an axillary temperature.

  • Take the thermometer out of its holder.

  • Hold the thermometer by the end opposite the colored or silver tip.

  • Clean the thermometer with soap and warm water or rubbing alcohol. Rinse with cool water.
    Picture of a glass axillary thermometer


  • Turn the thermometer in your hand until you see the line. The line should read less than 96° F (35.6° C). If the line reads more than 96° F (35.6° C), firmly shake the thermometer downward several times. Shake the thermometer over a couch or bed. This will keep it from breaking if it slips out of your hand.

  • Check the thermometer to make sure it reads 96° F (35.6° C) or less.

  • Gently pat your armpit with a tissue. Do not rub when drying your armpit because rubbing warms the skin.

  • Put the end with the colored or silver tip under your arm.

  • Keep the thermometer under your arm for 5 minutes or longer.

  • Remove the thermometer without touching the tip.

  • Gently wipe the thermometer with a tissue.

  • Hold the thermometer at eye level.

  • Slowly turn the thermometer until you see the line. Each long mark is the same as 1 degree. Short marks are the same as 0.2 degree.

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

CONTACT A CAREGIVER IF:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have a sore throat.

  • You have abdominal (belly) pain.

  • You have vomiting (throwing up) or diarrhea (di-uh-REE-uh). Diarrhea is loose BM's.

SEEK CARE IMMEDIATELY IF:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have a stiff neck.

  • You are having breathing problems.

  • You are confused or are not thinking clearly.

Copyright © 2012. Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes.

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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