If you’ve got children, then you’ll know how indispensable a thermometer is. When children are out of sorts, the onset of illness is the first thing to check off, and a change in their temperature is a useful warning sign. 

In fact, the NHS advises that a healthy internal body temperature for children and infants should be 36.4⁰C. If your child has high temperature, you need to track this to make sure that their internal body temperature remains at acceptable levels. Typically, if it rises above 38 ⁰C, your child may have a fever and an appointment with the family GP should be arranged.

So being able to check their temperature is crucial. But even if you’re well organised and can remember where you put the thermometer last time you used it, how do you know the thermometer you’ve got is fit for purpose? And if you haven’t yet added this critical instrument to your family healthcare kit, how do you know what you need or how much to spend?

This article has been written to help you decide what kind of thermometer – or thermometers – best fit the needs of your family. By reading it, you’ll discover what choices are available on the market today, and the advantages and disadvantages of the different kinds.

There’s not one right answer, but by reading on, you will be in a better position to make an informed decision.

Why not just any thermometer will do

A thermometer is any device that is used to measure the temperature of an object or space. They come in all sorts of different formats and are often designed for a specific purpose: an oven thermometer is made to withstand prolonged exposure to high heat but can’t function as a food thermometer, which needs to be able to probe into the food.

When it comes to thermometers that are suitable for your family, the criteria is different. They need to be designed to work safely and effectively with the human body and the specific variables it presents. Further, different age groups have different needs, from babies to adults. So when it comes to family thermometers, what are the choices?

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.