Normal body temperatures vary, but if your temperature is 96 and you feel sick, there might be something else going on. It could a sign of sepsis, or something simpler. Only your doctor can tell you for sure.
You may feel ill and take your temperature assuming you have a fever. Instead, your thermometer reads 96°F (35.55°C). This lower-than-average temperature could occur for several reasons. You may have an illness that corresponds to low temperatures. You may have taken your temperature incorrectly. Age may play a factor. Finally, you may have a health condition causing a lower body temperature.
Understanding body temperature is important to making sense of your 96-degree reading. Long ago, doctors considered 98.6°F (37°C) to be a “normal” temperature. That has changed in recent years. A normal temperature is now considered to be a bit lower than that, and it depends on your age and the method you use to measure your temperature.
The study also examined body temperatures taken with different methods. These average temperatures by method were:
- Rectal: 98.67°F (37.04°C)
- Eardrum: 97.95°F (36.64°C)
- Oral: 97.83°F (36.57°C)
- Armpit: 96.75°F (35.97°C)
Average temperatures for newborns and children are also different:
- Newborns: 97.7 and 99.5°F (36.5 and 37.5°C).
- Children: 96.8 and 99.5°F (36 and 37.5°C).
Certain illnesses, or incorrect temperature readings, could factor into why your thermometer reads 96°F (35.55°C), but you feel sick. Low body temperature could also be a symptom of a serious illness like hypothermia or sepsis, but you’d likely have severe symptoms.
Incorrect temperature taking
One common reason your thermometer may read 96°F (35.55°C) is because you took your temperature incorrectly.
- Make sure you are following the manufacturer’s instructions for your thermometer.
- Consider any factors that could have led to an inaccurate temperature. An oral reading may be affected if you’ve sipped a cold drink or kept your mouth open while taking your temperature. An armpit reading may be lower if you did not hold the thermometer in the correct place or if you improperly closed your arm.
- Take your temperature a few times to make sure the reading is correct.
Hypothermia occurs when your body is at 95°F (35°C) or lower in adults. For children and infants, it can occur when their temperature is lower than a reading in the normal range. Hypothermia is a very serious medical condition that can lead to death if not treated immediately by medical professionals.
This condition can occur because of exposure to cold weather, submersion in cold water, prolonged time in cold and wet clothes, or a cold home environment. An early symptom of hypothermia is shivering.
Hypothermia requires immediate medical attention, so you should call for emergency help if you suspect you have hypothermia. If you have to wait for medical help, try to warm yourself up with blankets or a hot drink.
A drop in body temperature could be a symptom of sepsis. This occurs when your body starts fighting itself instead of an infection. It can damage to your tissues, shut down your organs, and even lead to death. Other symptoms of sepsis include:
- symptoms of infection
- changes in mental state
- feeling very sick, such as having a hard time breathing or feeling pain
Seek immediate medical help if you think you might have sepsis.
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid is not functioning properly. It does not create enough of your thyroid hormone for your body. Therefore, you may experience:
You can take medication to improve your thyroid’s hormone production.
You may have a lower body temperature as you age. You may have less body fat in your arms and legs, dry skin, and a slowed metabolism as you get older. These can all contribute to a lower body temperature.
Exposure to cold temperatures
Your temperature may be low if you have been outside in cold weather. Wear warm enough clothes and keep your head covered in cold weather. Avoid getting wet in cold weather.
Keeping babies in a normal temperature range is very important to avoid hypothermia or other illnesses. Some factors that could influence a baby’s temperature include:
Take your baby’s temperature using the same method every time. Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature, and let the infant warm up if they have been brought in from the cold.
The best temperature-taking methods for infants and toddlers are:
- In the armpit. Place the thermometer in the middle of the armpit, and close the arm against the body. Wait 3 minutes for an accurate measurement, or follow the thermometer’s instructions.
- In the rectum. Put a protective sleeve over the thermometer and add a lubricant to it. Insert the tip of the thermometer in the rectum (no more than 2 centimeters) and wait 5 seconds before pulling it out and reading it, or follow the thermometer’s instructions.
- In the eardrum (for infants more than 3 months old). Place the thermometer into the ear, seal off the ear, and turn on the thermometer. Pull it out when the thermometer indicates it’s taken the reading.
- Contactless forehead: Some thermometers allow you to take a child’s temperature without contact. The thermometer and forehead must be movement-free to get an accurate reading. Press the temperature button. Your device will beep or flash to let you know the temperature is ready to be read.
Call a healthcare professional if your temperature is 96°F (35.55°C) and you feel sick. You can describe your symptoms over the phone. They may offer a diagnosis or ask you to make an office visit.
- breathing difficulty
- slowed speech
- confusion or other mental changes
- blue skin or lips
Infants with a low body temperature should be seen by a doctor immediately. Other symptoms of hypothermia in infants include red or discolored and cold skin, sleepiness, and disinterest in feeding.
Below are commonly asked questions regarding a low body temperature.
What causes a low temperature of 96F?
There are many different causes of low body temperature, including:
- incorrect temperature taking
- advanced age
- cold exposure or hypothermia
- certain health conditions
What does it mean when you have a low temperature?
Having a low body temperature can mean different things depending on its cause. It may mean that you have taken a temperature reading wrong or your living environment is too cold. A low temperature can also indicate an underlying health condition.
What illness causes low temperature?
Certain health conditions may cause a drop in body temperature, including hypothermia, hyperthyroidism, and sepsis.
What should I do if my body temperature is low?
If your body temperature is low, you should move to a warm, sheltered location as soon as possible and retake a temperature reading. If a low body temperature accompanies other symptoms such as breathing difficulty or skin changes, you should seek medical assistance.
There are several reasons you feel ill and have a thermometer reading of 96°F (35.55°C). You may have a serious illness like hypothermia or sepsis that requires immediate attention. You may have taken your temperature incorrectly. Or you may have another underlying factor contributing to the lower temperature like advanced age, medication use, or hypothyroidism.