Among the many items in a family’s first aid box, every household should have a thermometer. That’s because if you suspect someone in your family has a fever, a thermometer will help you know for sure.

Today, there is a wide variety of effective digital thermometers available. Temperature is not just taken via the mouth; it varies depending on the type of thermometer and the age and preference of the family member. Some advanced thermometers use infrared technology that requires little or no physical contact at all.

This article explores some of those different ways of using thermometers, as well as giving advice and tips on how to accurately and comfortably take the temperatures of family members when they show signs of illness.

Main methods of taking temperature

Given the wide variety of thermometers you can buy, there’s no single one-size-fits-all method to using them. But what thermometers do have in common is that they have to be held somewhere on, in or near the body. The places most frequently used for this are:

  • Ear (tympanic)
  • Forehead
  • Mouth (oral)
  • Rear (rectal)
  • Armpit

Digital thermometers  

Traditional digital thermometers are a common method of taking temperature. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes, and can be used in a variety of ways – in the mouth, under the armpit or in the rectum. More recent kinds deliver readings just as fast and accurately, but can be used in the ear, against the forehead or even with no contact at all.

Being digital, the thermometer does most of the work for you. Once applied, most will take a reading of the temperature, and then give an audible tone to let the user know that its reading is complete. 

Ear and forehead digital thermometers are considered safe, accurate, and convenient. Some also have an inbuilt memory system so readings can be recorded for later use, such as when consulting a healthcare professional. 

Ear and forehead digital thermometers are great for children too, because a reading can be made quickly without the child needing to sit in place for too long. Some can even be used while the child is asleep. In the event of movement, many digital thermometers have soft bendy applicators to make them comfortable to use.

As with most things, while cheap versions are available, it pays to invest in a more advanced digital thermometer, which may offer innovative functionality, improved user experience, and the peace of mind that comes with a trusted brand name.

How accurate are digital thermometers?

When used in controlled conditions, most digital thermometers are very accurate.  However, readings can be impacted by environmental factors.

If, for instance, temperature is taken orally but the person has just had something to eat or drink, the reading may be affected. Likewise, no matter how unobtrusive, kids rarely like having things placed in or on them – especially if they are already feeling unwell; any struggle could lead to an inaccurate reading.

All of that being said, digital thermometers do give you the best chance to get an accurate reading – and some models are better at addressing the issue of environmental interferences. So the question then becomes: what sort?

Ear or elsewhere?

The question of where you take the reading really depends on the age of the patient. For example, babies don’t always keep their heads still for long enough for oral readings to be accurate. So a better place to take their temperature is the ear.

Oral application is more feasible for older children and will also be easier to do. Bendy thermometers offer greater comfort here. However, non-oral options such as in-ear or ‘no touch’ models are also relevant, offering accuracy and comfort. Some thermometers by Braun even offer age-specific readings.

Some thermometers may also allow you to take temperature from other parts of the body, such as the forehead, armpit or rectum. Wherever you take the reading, make sure you follow the instructions of your device – and always clean the thermometer after use.

Infrared thermometers

These use infrared sensors to pick up heat readings given off from the body, either from the ear or by holding the sensor on or close to the forehead. They are very fast – an infrared thermometer can have a reading within a few seconds – and some models don’t even require direct contact to work. For children who are especially active, these may be preferred by parents over other types.

An infrared thermometer is good if you want something that is quick and doesn’t disturb the children. This is especially useful for younger children and babies, who may move around too much. Some Braun models give tailored responses to different age groups, clearly indicating whether the person is above or below the accepted temperature range for their age.

Which to choose?

There’s no one right answer when choosing a thermometer for your family. However, remember that you are investing in a product that will play a vital role in your family’s health for years to come. Whatever you choose, always check the packaging and any instructions to make sure you’re using the thermometer correctly. And if you have any doubts before or after purchase, seek further advice from the manufacturer or a healthcare professional.