Types of Thermometers for Children

Before your child gets sick, it's vital to know about the different types of thermometers. Here's a rundown of twhat's available and their methods of use.

The methods for taking a child's temperature are: rectally, orally, under the arm, in the ear canal, and temporally (on the forehead). Under the arm is considered the least accurate, and rectally is the most accurate. In fact, rectal temperature is the only method recommended by pediatricians for infants under three months of age. At that age, getting the most accurate temperature is important: A high fever in an infant necessitates immediate action and a long battery of tests.

When you tell the pediatrician what your child's temperature is, be sure to mention the method you used to take it. Some thermometers can be off as much as ½ a degree due to the method used.

Mercury-Based Thermomether
If you have one of these clear thermometers with mercury inside, throw it in the trash. The danger of mercury poisoning should the thermometer break is important enough to get a new, digital thermometer to replace it.

Digital Thermometer
Most digital thermometers can be used rectally, orally or under the arm, but some can only be used orally. Check the packaging before you buy, and don't take rectal and oral temperatures with the same thermometer. Digital thermometers are convenient and easy to read. The time they take to report results varies, but may take as long as five minutes. An under the arm temperature reading should be verified by another method as it is the least accurate.

Ear Thermometers (Tympanic)
These are considered the easiest thermometers to use because a temperature reading is instantaneous. This type of thermometer works by placing the tip into the child's ear canal and pressing a button. The important things to know are that they have to be placed into the ear just right to be accurate. Also this type is not considered accurate for babies younger than 12 months.

Temporal Artery Thermometers
This is a relatively new type of thermometer that you simply slip onto a finger and wipe across the child's brow to his hairline. It takes 1000 readings per second of the skin temperature and makes a report. There are mixed results in scientific studies as to their accuracy, although for convenience this is clearly the fastest and easiest method to use. Just running over the forehead of a child makes it easy to take a temp, even when the child is asleep.

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