Taking a Temperature
During chemotherapy, and while your child has a central line, you must monitor temperature closely.
Chemotherapy suppresses production of white blood cells that fight infection, leaving patients more vulnerable to serious illness. An elevated temperature may indicate a developing infection that could quickly become life-threatening to your child.
Types of Thermometer
Several different types of thermometer are available. Digital thermometers are best, taking an oral or axillary (underarm) temperature.
Do not take a rectal temperature as this can tear the skin, creating an infection risk.
Digital thermometers are used under the arm or tongue. Digital pacifier (dummy) thermometers are specially designed for babies.
Tympanic thermometers are used in the ear. However, they may not be as reliable as digital thermometers and are not recommended.
Glass thermometers are best used under the tongue. However, they are no longer legal in some countries and are not greatly accurate.
Temperature Strips are used on the forehead. They are not accurate and should not be used to monitor temperature in children with cancer.
Carefully follow the instructions that came with your thermometer. If you don’t have a thermometer, buy one, or ask a friend to buy one for you.
Don’t give your child anything hot or cold to drink/eat for 30 minutes before taking a temperature. Make sure the mouth is empty. Place the thermometer tip under the tongue and ask your child to keep still and quiet until the thermometer beeps. Stay with your child during this time to monitor.
Remove clothing so the thermometer touches your child’s skin. Place the tip of the thermometer into the centre of the armpit and lower your child’s arm to keep it held in place. Keep your child still and the thermometer in place until it beeps. Stay with your child to monitor progress.
Do not use tympanic thermometers on babies under 6 months.
The ear canal must be straight to obtain an accurate temperature. To do this, pull your child’s outer ear gently but firmly backwards. If your child is under one year, pull the outer ear back and up. Use a clear lens cover with each new reading.
Use the conversion setting to obtain an oral temperature reading. If the thermometer registers a raised temperature, tell the doctor you used a tympanic thermometer to obtain the reading.
Always clean the thermometer tip according to the manufacturer’s instructions before and after it is used, to ensure no transfer of germs. Let the tip air dry before you use or repack it.
When to Call the Doctor
Normal body temperature is 37°C / 98.6°F. Fever is indicated by:
- an oral temperature of 38°C / 100.4°F or above
- an underarm temperature of 37.4°C / 99.4°F or above
Your child’s doctor or nurse will give you instructions about what to do if your child has a fever. If you are unsure of these, or can’t remember them, ask for written instructions, and tape them inside your medicine cabinet at home.