Before we get into the best type of thermometer to use on your child, let’s first discuss what you should NOT be using. Remember the old-school glass thermometers that used mercury to take your temperature? If you happen to have one, dispose of it properly according to your local state and federal laws. If the glass on that thermometer breaks, the mercury inside of it can actually be toxic to humans.
There are plenty of different types of thermometers on the market today. What you really want to know is the easiest way to take a child’s temperature accurately. Well, we totally understand your angst, parents! Some kids can’t sit still long enough to have their temperature taken, while others simply refuse to be probed! So we’ve come up with some of the best methods out there. We’ve also included the best thermometers for adults as well.
What is the Best Type of Thermometer for…
#1 The Most Accurate Temperature-Taking for All Ages
Digital thermometers provide the most accurate readings for people of all ages. They can take readings orally, rectally, and under the armpit—and they usually only take a minute or less. For the most accurate temperatures in kids 3 months to 3 years old, take a rectal reading using a digital thermometer. For older children and adults, an oral reading is the most accurate if taken properly with the mouth all the way shut. The downside is that some children won’t sit still long enough to have their temperature taken properly, whether orally, rectally, or under the armpit. Also, rectal temperatures can be uncomfortable for a child.
#2 The Least Amount of Disturbance Yet Still Reliable (for Infants to Older Children)
A temporal artery thermometer wins this category. It provides a quick, easy way to take your child’s temperature with the least disturbance or fuss. This is especially good for parents who are afraid to take rectal readings on their child. The device works by simply scanning the forehead to pick up the temperature of blood flowing through the temporal artery. These thermometers work best in children (infants to older children). Studies suggest that, in terms of accuracy, temporal artery thermometers are the next best thing to rectal readings from digital thermometers. The cons are that they are more expensive than other modern thermometers, and they may not be as accurate when used on adults.
#3 The Least Amount of Disturbance Yet Reliable (for Adults):
Tympanic thermometers, which use infrared rays to measure the temperature inside the ear canal, can be used on infants older than age 6 months, older children, and adults. Since temporal artery thermometers don’t work as well on adults, tympanic thermometers are a good alternative for those who have a hard time taking oral temperatures due to breathing problems or oral issues. They are typically accurate if positioned properly, however ear wax or the size and shape of an ear can come in the way of a proper reading. Tympanic thermometers are also more expensive than digital thermometers, but they are worth the investment if digital thermometers aren’t working for
Why Thermometers Give Different Readings
Occasionally, inaccurate or varying results are due to the thermometer itself. However, more often than not, inaccurate readings are caused by the way the temperature is taken. Here are a few factors that may lead to different readings.
The type of thermometer you use may make a difference in the results you get. For instance, digital thermometers that use “predictive” technology are able to provide results much faster, sometimes in as little as two seconds. However, because the results are based on a predictive algorithm rather than a measured value, the displayed temperature may not always be as accurate as actual-read thermometers.
How you apply the thermometer matters. If you do not use the thermometer properly, it can impact your results. For instance, positioning the thermometer incorrectly in the mouth can lead to an inaccurate reading. The thermometer tip should be positioned under the tongue where the bottom of the mouth and the back of the tongue meet. The person’s mouth should be relaxed to ensure the thermometer doesn’t move around. Talking or biting down on the thermometer can skew results.
There are other factors that can affect the temperature results. If a person’s temperature is not stabilized, it can mess with the results. Wait a few minutes to take a person’s temperature if they just came in from being out in the cold or if they just had a sip of hot coffee or cold soda.
When to See a Doctor for High Temperature:
When oral temperature exceeds 99.9°F or rectal temperature exceeds 99.5°F to 100.9°F, you should monitor for any abnormal symptoms and continue taking temperature readings regularly, especially with infants. Thankfully, most fevers go away on their own. But at what temperature should you see a doctor or go to an emergency room?
Because babies 3 months and under still have very immature immune systems, you should always call your doctor for any fever that reaches 100.4 degrees or above. But for children older than three months, you can continue to monitor for abnormal symptoms and temperature spikes from home, unless you’d feel more at ease taking them to a doctor. As we mention in our blog post, When Do You Take a Child to the Doctor for a High Fever?, instead of focusing on your child’s temperature, see how they’re acting. Is the fever bothering your child? Are they achy or moaning? If not, they’ll probably be okay and you may not even have to treat it. Many children get fevers reaching 104 degrees and are fine.
The same rule of thumb applies to adults. Rather than going by the actual temperature, monitor for abnormal symptoms like difficulty breathing, chest pain, inability to hold down fluids, etc. Fevers are simply a sign that your immune system is working to fight off an infection. The most important thing is to watch for unusual warning signs—aside from temperature—that something serious may be happening.