Transitioning into adulthood is a slow process. And sometimes it seems like certain purchases are road-markers that indicate how you're coming along — you start with a sewing kit and eventually have an entire tool box you know how to use in the apartment. But, nobody's perfect, and sometimes you're left without the one thing you need most. Luckily, you can learn how to tell if you have a fever even if you don't have a thermometer on your nightstand.
“Fevers are our body's way of fighting off infections," Rebecca Lee, registered nurse and founder of the natural health resource, RemediesForMe.com, tells Bustle. "These are a few thing you can do at home to help your body along as the fever runs its course." These things include staying in bed, getting rest, and staying as hydrated as possible. Figuring out whether you have a fever in the first case can be tricky, but it's really important.
Knowing your temperature can indicate whether or not you need to go to the emergency room. Even if it's a low temperature, it can be important to know what's going on with your body. Say you have a doctor's appointment scheduled for the next day, keeping an eye on your temperature and your symptoms will help them better take care of you. And even if you don't have a thermometer, learning these indicators can be another step towards maturity.
Here are seven ways to tell if you have a fever, even if there's no thermometer in sight.
1. Use The Back Of Your Hand, Not Your Palm
When you're running a fever, the inclination seems to often be "feel my forehead." That's not too far off, experts say, but it's likely the way you're doing it that's the problem.
"The most common way to check if someone has a fever without a thermometer is to feel the forehead or neck with the back of your hand," Lee says. "Check to see if it feels warmer than usual. Do not use the palm, as it is not as sensitive to temperature changes as the back of the hand is,”
Similarly, Beverly Hills concierge doctor, Ehsan Ali, MD, tells Bustle that a major spike in body temperature is a giveaway. "You can tell if someone has a fever if you are significantly warmer to the touch, all over the body, not just the forehead/face. Other signs include redness or flushing of the cheeks/face." Dr. Ali also notes that if the change in temperature occurs with feelings of extreme fatigue, there's a good chance it's a fever.
It's easier if you can get a friend, roommate, or family member to do check your forehead, but you can try yourself too. It's nowhere near as accurate as taking your temperature, but it can help guide you.
2. Look At Your Cheeks
You can get another hint about whether you're running a fever by looking in the mirror.
“Another way to check if someone has a fever is to see if their skin (especially the cheeks) appears to be redder than usual. A fever can cause the cheeks to become flushed or red,” Lee says. If you notice this, it might be because your body is in battle mode.
"A fever causes the blood vessels to dilate ... It could indicate the body is in the middle of fighting something," Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics, tells Bustle. A cold washcloth might bring temporary relief, but if you're feeling seriously flushed, it's always safer to call a doctor.
3. Take A Peek At Your Pee
Fevers cause dehydration. But you might not realize how much water you have (or haven't) been drinking if you're sick in bed. "If you are running a temperature, it is important to drink plenty of fluids. The elevated temperature increases metabolism, and you can quickly become dehydrated,” Dr. Celine Thum, M.D., head medical director to team of doctors at ParaDocs Worldwide Inc, tells Bustle.
Dr. Ali agrees — any change in pee is something to note, especially if your temperature has gone up too. "Urine doesn’t change drastically, but it might be more yellow due to dehydration that occurs with a fever."
Because of this, to keep an eye on your hydration levels, you can check the color of your pee. “If [your] urine is dark yellow and not a pale yellow, they need more fluids. Fever can also cause dryness of the mouth and thirst,” Lee says. The color of your pee is another way your body is trying to communicate with you, so listen to it. And drink more water.
4. Ask Yourself (Or Those Around You) If Your Body Temperature Makes Sense
It may feel embarassing to ask around "is it hot in here?" or "is anyone else cold?" but it could actually be really helpful for gauging whether or not you're sick.
Fevers can cause you to either feel really hot or really cold. “The constant change in their body temperature can cause shivering and chills even though no one else feels cold or hot. As their temperature changes from the fever, they can feel hot and then cold. This causes sweating and shivering,” Lee explains. If these symptoms last or are particularly intense, it's important to see a doctor.
5. Try Taking The Stairs
Fevers can cause you to get exhausted, or to feel winded after doing something simple, like taking a jog, or going up a flight of stairs.
"General fatigue and lethargy are two classic symptoms," Backe says. "It can help you tell if your body temperature is getting higher." So if you're sick in bed and not sure if you're just feeling regular-lazy or sick-lethargic, try seeing how you feel taking a walk down the block or climbing a staircase at home. If you are getting particularly winded, it could be a sign you're running a fever.
6. Check In With Your Pain Levels
Dr. Thum, Backe, and Lee all say that headaches and body aches, too, are potential signs of a fever. So if you have aches and pains that don't correspond with any injuries, or a headache that's going alongside sweats or fatigue, you might be running a temperature.
Luckily, the same medicine that can help with your aches and pains can help regulate the fever itself. “Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen will also help decrease your temperature but must be taken every four-six hours,” Dr. Thum says. You should always check with a doctor to see if it's safe for you to take acetaminophen.
The Mayo Clinic also notes that a chills from a fever can coincide with in pain, and it's best to check in with your doctor if any of these aches become severe.
7. Get Someone To Bring You A Thermometer
Now this may seem annoying, but if you're really concerned about whether or not you're running a fever, the only thing you can do to actually know is to get a thermometer. "The only sure way to check for a fever is to use a thermometer. You can buy these over the counter at a pharmacy. A fever is a temperature over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit," Dr. Thum says. So, if you can get the energy to walk to the store, it'll be a worthwhile investment (plus, if this happens again, you won't have to wonder). If you're too weak, try calling a friend who's been there for you before, and seeing if they're able to bring you one.
No matter how tired you're feeling, or how much you don't like doctors, there are certain signs that you have to go to a doctor no matter what. "If it is a very high fever (usually 104 and up), get to an emergency room. You could be in need of medical attention," Backe says. Dr. Thum adds that difficulty breathing, vomiting, rashes, confusion, pain, or fever lasting for over two days, are other bottom lines that mean you need to get help.
If your fever is short-term, or lower than 103 degrees, there's things you can do at home. "Fight the fever by staying hydrated, resting, taking meds to bring down the fever, and keeping tabs. [But] when in doubt, call a doctor," Backe says. Take care of yourself out there, and buy a thermometer.
This post was originally published on May 31, 2018. It was updated on June 3, 2019. Additional reporting by Kristin Magaldi.