7 Ways To Tell You Have A Fever If You Don't Have A Thermometer
by Eva Taylor Grant
Originally Published: 
A woman lies on her couch trying to tell if she has a fever without a thermometer.

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, 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, knowing what's going on with your body is the first step towards feeling better. If you have a doctor's appointment scheduled for the next day, keeping an eye on your symptoms will help your GP better take care of you. And even if you don't have a thermometer, learning these indicators can be another step towards getting well.

Here are seven ways to tell if you have a fever, even if there's no thermometer in sight.


Use The Back Of Your Hand, Not Your Palm

When you think you're running a fever, you'll probably ask someone to feel your forehead. That's not too far off, experts say.

"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.”

Beverly Hills concierge medicine physician Dr. Ehsan Ali, M.D., 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." 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 check your forehead, but you can try yourself, too. It's nowhere near as accurate as taking your temperature, but it can help you get a sense of if you're sick or not.


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.

"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.


Take A Peek At Your Pee

Fevers can 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 a team of doctors at ParaDocs Worldwide, Inc., tells Bustle.

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."

To keep an eye on your hydration levels, you can check the color of your pee. “If [someone's] 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.


Ask Yourself (Or Those Around You) If Your Body Temperature Makes Sense

It may feel weird 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.


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 [of fever]," 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-tired or sick-tired, 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 sick.


Check In With Your Pain Levels

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 could 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 to six hours,” Thum says. You should always check with a doctor to see if it's safe for you to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

The Mayo Clinic also notes that chills from a fever can coincide with pain, and it's best to check in with your doctor if any of these aches become severe.


Get Someone To Bring You A Thermometer

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," Thum says. So, if you can muster 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 confident that you're sick and potentially contagious, try calling a friend who's been there for you before and seeing whether they're able to drop one off on your doorstep.

No matter how tired you're feeling, or how much you don't like doctors, if you truly don't feel well, you should try to see a doctor as soon as possible. "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.

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 are 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 for next time.


If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, call NHS 111 in the UK or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.

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