Finding the Best Thermometer for Kids

Laura Richards
Aug. 6, 2015

Your child feels like he has a fever, but which kind of thermometer should you use? Here's what to know about different types of thermometers for kids.

A sick child means a worried parent. Fevers in particular often cause parents to feel nervous, especially when they aren't clear on which is the best thermometer for kids.

"Taking a temperature is a great thing to do if your kiddo seems off, and if you are worried. I implore parents to check a temp before they call clinic. It saves time and informs the discussion," advises Dr. Jack Maypole, an educational advisory board member at The Goddard School and a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center.

However, it's good to track the fever as well. "Knowing that a child has a fever and what the general trend of what the fever is doing, whether it is trending up or down, is more helpful than the actual degree of fever," says Dr. Stan Spinner, a pediatrician for over 30 years and the chief medical officer at Texas Children's Pediatrics.

There are so many choices on the market, but it really comes down to a few simple guidelines when seeking the best thermometer for kids. Here's the breakdown:

Digital Oral Thermometer
Also known as a stick thermometer, this economical option has a simple button to turn off and on and an LCD window display that shows the exact temperature of the child. This type is considered the most accurate by Drs. Maypole and Spinner, and can be used underneath the arm as well. It uses an electronic heat sensor and has either a hard or soft tip.

"One can use a simple digital thermometer to take an oral temperature in a child old enough to cooperate. Typically this would be 6 years of age or older," says Dr. Spinner. "The typical digital thermometer gives an accurate reading within 30 seconds."

Dr. Maypole agrees. "A basic digital thermometer used in older kids can and should be done orally, if the child can tolerate and comply with having the little sensor tip under her tongue for the minute or two it takes to get a reading. They need to keep their mouths closed for it to work. Alternatively, such a thermometer can be used for an axillary (armpit) temperature check. Conventional wisdom dictates add a degree to the measure for the temperature" reading from the armpit.

Infrared Thermometers
These thermometers measure the heat being emitted by the body with an infrared scanner. They come in two types:

  • Ear Thermometer
    Also known as a tympanic thermometer, this version measures the temperature inside the ear by use of an infrared scanner. To accurately use it, you'll need to position the thermometer in the correct spot by gently pulling the ear out. Best for wiggling or uncooperative kids, reading the instructions completely is key for use -- but keep in mind that ear temperature readings are not as accurate as oral.
  • Forehead Thermometers
    This type, which is also referred to as a temporal artery thermometer, is used on the forehead to measure the infrared heat waves released by the temporal artery. It's very important to be able to accurately find and measure the artery, which is located between the outside edge of the eye and the hairline.

The more complex the thermometer, the higher the price -- but paying more doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a more accurate temperature reading. "Actually, the cheap ones usually get the job done just fine in my experience. In my house, we use one from the local pharmacy chain that set us back about $8 and it works great," says Dr. Maypole.

Regardless of which thermometer you choose for your child, Dr. Maypole advises parents to test the thermometer they buy on themselves and familiarize themselves with its use. He says, "No one wants to learn when their tyke is screaming! Google or have a cheat sheet handy if you are unfamiliar with the units (Celsius versus Fahrenheit)."


While the little ones aren't feeling well, make sure you check out these 6 Ways to Stay Healthy While Caring for Sick Kids.

Laura Richards is a Boston-based freelance writer and the mother of four boys including a set of identical twins. She has written for numerous parenting publications and is the president of On Point Communications. Her parenting links can be found on her Modern Mothering website.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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