Since a fever is often the first indication of an infection, a thermometer is considered a household essential for families. For safety reasons, mercury thermometers are no longer recommended.
Digital vs Infrared Thermometers
Although all thermometers available on the market are digital, in the sense that they run on batteries and have LCD display screens, “digital thermometers” are more specifically referring to rectal, oral or axillary (armpit) thermometers.
On the other hand, infrared thermometers refer to devices that detect thermal heat radiation, specifically on the forehead or in the ear.
In particular, forehead thermometers are also known as “no-touch” or “touchless” thermometers as they don’t require any skin contact to take a reading.
6 Types of Thermometers
Below are the different thermometers available on the market, from the most accurate to least accurate:
- Most accurate readings
- Most affordable to buy
- Most uncomfortable for babies
- Readings take a long time
Rectal thermometers usually have a 3-in-1 function. They can generally be used in the rectum, mouth or under the armpits, but using it in the rectum yields the most accurate readings.
Apart from being the most accurate way of taking temperatures, rectal thermometers are also the cheapest type of on the market. Available for less than $10, these digital thermometers cost only a fraction of other types.
However, a major disadvantage is that readings take a long time, generally around 30 seconds to a minute. This makes digital thermometers fairly impractical for little ones because they can’t stay still for so long without feeling uncomfortable.
However, if you do want to consider getting a digital thermometer, the best one on the market is the Safety 1st 3-in-1 Thermometer. Designed specifically for babies, it has a flexible tip and a safety gauge to avoid over-insertion when used rectally.
- Second most accurate readings
- Readings take less than a second
- Most expensive type of thermometer
- Best option for infants under six months
Also known as TA (Temporal Artery) thermometers, forehead thermometers are contactless “no-touch” devices that measure body temperature using infrared technology.
The second most accurate after rectal thermometers, infrared forehead thermometers are the safest and most recommended way of taking temperatures in newborns and infants under six months old.
However, the price tag for infrared technology is significantly higher as well, with good quality forehead thermometers costing anywhere between $80 and $160.
- Slightly less accurate than forehead thermometers
- NOT recommended for babies under six months
- Fast readings, less than a second
- Some require disposable probe covers
Although ear thermometers use the same infrared technology as forehead ones to measure body temperature, testings have shown them to be slightly less accurate.
However, this is often the result of incorrect usage. When placed inside the ear, the angle and depth of the thermometer can affect readings. Excessive ear wax can also impede accurate measurements.
The main disadvantage of ear thermometers is that some brands require disposable filters for the ear probe to work. Without the filters, the device will not work.
Newer multifunction thermometers, however, do not generally require filters and will work straight out of the box.
- Very affordable option
- Readings take 10-30 seconds
- Higher chance of cross-infection
- Less hygienic
Unlike the contactless ear and forehead thermometers, oral thermometers carry the risk of spreading germs to other users. To avoid this, ensure you disinfect the thermometer after each use.
You should never use the same thermometer for the rectum and mouth. Always label and use separate thermometers for different parts of the body.
Oral measurements are usually fairly accurate if the thermometer is used correctly and placed under the tongue. However, because of the long reading times, it can be hard for a baby or young child to keep still.
Axillary (armpit) thermometers
- Unreliable readings
- Long reading time up to two minutes
- Cheap to purchase
As mentioned before, axillary thermometers can usually also be used in the rectum or orally. The armpits, however, are the least accurate of the three areas.
Sweat, clothes, or incorrect positioning can all affect the accuracy of the readings.
Dummy pacifier thermometers
- Fairly affordable
- Least reliable readings
- Very long reading times 3-5 minutes
- NOT recommended for newborns
Although a good idea for taking baby’s temperature in a natural way, there is very little research supporting the reliability of dummy thermometers.
Some studies have suggested that to get accurate readings, the dummy needs to be held in the mouth for about three to five minutes – a significant amount of time for young babies.
However, despite not being recommended by healthcare professionals, the Cherub Baby Dummy Thermometer has overwhelmingly positive customer reviews, one of the highest-rated baby thermometers on ProductReview.com.au.
Top 3 Infrared Thermometers For Babies
Best Multipurpose Thermometer
Australian owned and operated Medescan is known for its healthcare and medical products with advanced technology. The Touchless 2-in-1 Thermometer is their latest product with patented technology and several outstanding features:
- Takes body temperature via forehead or ears
- Reading food, formula and bath temperature
- Magnetic probe cover
- Fast one-second reading
- Adult and Child mode for increased accuracy
- 40 memory recall for temperature
- Colour warnings for high temperature
- Auto shut-off
- Low battery indicator
- Comes included with 2 x AAA batteries
- Includes handy carry pouch
- TGA approved
The 2-in-1 Thermometer costs the same as many other touchless thermometers that only have a single function (forehead reading), so it definitely offers the most value in terms of usage.
Having a “Child” setting is the best feature of this thermometer, as babies naturally have a slightly higher body temperature than adults. The thermometer also switches automatically between forehead and ear mode when the magnetic cover is either removed or replaced.
For babies under six months, the forehead function is the most accurate and recommended way of taking temperature. Beyond six months, the ear reading function can be used if you want to double-check readings.
Amazon’s Choice and Bestseller
At a slightly lower price tag, the AstiVita 2-in-1 Thermometer is Amazon’s no.1 bestseller in “Baby Thermometers“. It offers many of the same features as Medescan, with some differences:
- Takes body temperature via forehead or ears
- Cannot be used for food, bath or formula
- Non-magnetic probe cover
- No adult/child mode
- Only one memory recall for temperature
- Colour warnings for high temperature
- Mute function
With a Brisbane-based support team and a standard 12-month warranty on their products, AstiVita is a 100% Australia owned and operated business that sells only through Amazon AU for fast dispatch and shipping.
Best value all-in-one thermometer
At almost half the price of the previous two models, the Cherub Baby thermometer is a hospital-grade device that has four functions: forehead scan, ear probe, flashlight, and 32 memory recalls.
If you’re looking for an all-round baby thermometer at a reasonable price, this would be my top pick.
How To Get Accurate Readings
Before taking a temperature, regardless of what kind of thermometer you are using, ensure that the baby has been in room temperature for at least 15 minutes. Things like a warm bath or sleeping in a heated or air-conditioned room can affect the baby’s body temperature.
There are also specific guidelines for using different types of thermometer to get the most accurate results.
Using a forehead thermometer
- If the product specifically says it is a touchless design, do not place it against the skin when reading
- Hold the thermometer no more than 2.5cm away from the forehead
- Keep baby’s head and thermometer still when reading, it should only take a second
- Do not take consecutive readings – the infrared in the thermometer builds up very slight heat with each reading, which can affect the accuracy of subsequent readings
- If you want to take multiple readings, switch off the thermometer and allow at least 10 seconds of rest before taking the next reading
Using a ear thermometer
- Different ears will yield different readings, stick to testing in the same ear each time
- Use the ear that has less wax build up – more ear wax will decrease the accuracy of readings
- Do not use ear thermometers for babies under six months, their ear canals are too small for accurate readings
- For babies over six months, straighten out the ear canal by gently pulling the ear backwards before inserting the probe
- Push the ear probe in slowly until it doesn’t go further – do not force it in deeper.
- The tip of the probe should be pointing towards the opposite side of the baby’s head, between her eye and ear.
- Sanitise and disinfect the ear probe after each use (if used without a filter)
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