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What thermometers are available for taking a child's temperature?

Many types of thermometers are available for taking your child's temperature. For example, some are used orally while others may be used in the axilla (armpit) or rectally. For infants, rectal thermometers are the most accurate and are very well tolerated. There are also electronic ear thermometers and forehead thermometers. It is best to buy the kind of thermometer that you are most comfortable using.

It is also important to consider the age and condition of the child when choosing the type of thermometer to measure body temperature. Glass thermometers filled with mercury are no longer recommended. The glass can break and cause injury. Also if the glass breaks the mercury is allowed to vaporize and may be inhaled. However, there are a number of other options available.

  • Digital thermometers use electronic heat sensors to record the body temperature. A digital thermometer can be used in the mouth axilla (arm-pit) or rectum.
  • Tympanic thermometers use an infrared ray to measure temperature inside the ear canal. These are not recommended for infants.
  • Temporal artery thermometers are simply moved over the child’s forehead to detect the skin temperature. They are quick and can be used even while the child is sleeping. However data on the validity of temporal artery thermometers is very limited.

The most accurate measure of the body’s core temperature is rectally with a digital thermometer. External measure of the body’s temperature such as axillary, tympanic membrane or skin temperatures are the least accurate and may take hours to reflect true changes in the body’s core temperature.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.