98.6°F (37°C) normal average temperature is essentially a myth. Those with low or high temps can generally stop worrying that you are dying just because you aren’t at the 98.6°F (37°C) “normal” decided on in 1868… after you consult a medical professional to double check.
Is 98.6°F the Normal Body Temperature for Humans?
98.6°F (37°C) is generally accepted as the normal body temperature of humans, but this commonly thought of average isn’t normal for everyone. Studies have shown normal ranges from 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C) according to MedlinePlus.gov.
Of course, not everyone is normal, so some healthy people may have slightly higher or lower normal-for-them temps. Further, babies and children tend to have higher temps and older adults tend to have lower normal temps. Thus, in short, the idea of a 98.6°F normal average temperature is misleading.
Where Does the 98.6 Average Come From?
The 98.6°F (37°C) average normal temperature comes study from 1868 by German physician, Carl R. A. Wunderlich, who recorded temperatures of more than 25,000 patients at the University of Liepzig over a period of 16 years.
There have been more modern studies that have shown a wider range of normal temperatures, see the citations below.
What is the Actual Average Temperature?
As noted above normal temperatures can range from 97°F (36.1°C) to 99°F (37.2°C) according to MedlinePlus.gov. Further, women are generally warmer than men on average according to studies, and Babies and children often have a little higher range of 97.9°F to 100.4°F and older adults tend to have slightly lower temperatures. So currently a range of temperatures are considered normal, there isn’t one normal temp.
Body temperature is usually maintained near a constant level through thermoregulation, this is true despite a person’s exact normal temperature. A person is defined as having hypothermia when their temperature falls below a certain temperature (generally 95.0 °F) or a fever when it goes above a certain temperature (generally 100.9 °F).
Thus, although some people have an average lower or higher body temp, our research still showed people being advised to consult a doctor if their temperature was above or below these temperatures.
NOTE: Clearly this isn’t a medical site and we can’t offer medical advice. This is just a conveying what we have found from our research. Always consult a medical professional before making medical decisions.
What are the Problems With the 98.6 Myth?
The main problem with accepting 98.6°F (37°C) as the normal temperature is that if you (or say your child) is on the high or low end of the spectrum.
For example, if your temperature is normally 97°F common wisdom will tell you that your normal temperature is a sign you might be sick, and that a rise of a degree and a half is normal. None of that would necessarily be true.
Likewise, if your baby has a temperature of 100°F you might drive them to the ER in a panic, when in reality their temp might be normal for them.
The problem is, unless you know a person’s normal temperature, it is hard to detect a significant change in temperature (such as might come along with being sick).
In short, the 98.6°F myth could easily result in a panic if you don’t know the individual’s normal temperature.
Since the average temperature can differ by 2 degrees, and since this is only average, it is wise to take your temperature when you aren’t sick and under different conditions, so you can understand your normal. Then you can, when feeling sick, compare your current temperature to your normal temperature to see if your temperature may be off.
Meanwhile, based on our research, it seems that you would have cause for worry if you broke into hypothermia or fever range regardless of your normal temp.
Of course, this is just a handy facts site researching the 98.6°F myth, not a medical site. You should consult with a medical professional before making any medical decisions and not make internet research the start and end of your diagnosis.
NOTE: My normal temp is closer to 97°F (36.1°C) and often in the 96°F range. When I type that into a search it tells me something is wrong and it isn’t normal or good… Yet I recently took a blood test and am pretty sure I am not dying. The moral of the story, find out your normal temperature and don’t just buy into the common wisdom of German science circa 1868.
- Using Smartphone Crowdsourcing to Redefine Normal and Febrile Temperatures in Adults: Results from the Feverprints Study. Springer.com.
- 98.6 DEGREES IS A NORMAL BODY TEMPERATURE, RIGHT? NOT QUITE. Wired.com.
- Body temperature norms. MedlinePlus.gov.
- NORMAL BODY TEMPERATURE FOUND TO BE 98.2 DEGREES. WashingtonPost.com.
- What Is Normal Body Temperature? Webmd.com.