How to Take a Patient’s Temperature


To confirm your general impression of the patient’s condition you may find it useful to take the patient’s temperature, pulse and respiratory rate. Do not, however, write on the community nursing sister’s home notes unless you are asked to. These are the notes she makes to record her nursing care, and they are used by the doctor to order treat­ment. She will usually leave the notes in an envelope in the same place after each visit, and you may look at them to see if there are any instructions for you. But if you have anything to report, write jt on a sheet of paper and slip it into the envelope. The doctor or nurse may ask you, however, to record the temperature, pulse and respir­atory rate at appropriate intervals on a temperature chart.

In the mouth

This is the most usual method of tempera­ture taking, suitable for most patients. But you should not take the temperature in the mouth if:

  • the patient is unconscious
  • the patient is a baby or child
  • there is injury to the mouth such as a fractured jaw, or an obvious infection present, such as ulceration
  • the patient is likely to have a fit
  • the patient is confused.

Use a clinical thermometer, which should be stored in the case provided. If you are using it regularly, keep it dry in a small jar or in antiseptic. Before you take the tempera­ture, rinse the thermometer in cold water and dry it with a cotton wool swab.

Taking the temperature by mouth

  1. Shake the mercury down and place under the tongue. Ask the patient to close her lips around it, but not her teeth.
  2. Wait for two minutes. Remove, wipe the bulb, read and record the temperature.
  3. Shake the mercury back down into the bulb and return the thermometer to its case, or place in a jar on a tray.

Taking the temperature in the axilla

The armpit (axilla) and groin may be used to record temperature if, for instance, the patient is subject to fits or if there is injury to the mouth. When the temperature has to be taken in the armpit, this should be noted on the record: axillary temperatures are a little lower and less reliable than those recorded in the mouth. Both thermometer and skin must be dry. Lay the bulb in the armpit and fold the arm across the chest. After two minutes, remove it, wipe, read and record the temperature. Shake the mercury down and place in antiseptic.

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About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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