The Ultimate Guide To Thermometers: Finding Accuracy Amidst Skepticism


Types of Thermometers
Are you one of the many parents feeling frustrated and skeptical about which thermometer to trust when your child falls ill? You’re not alone. As a pediatrician, I’ve listened to countless families express their concerns about the reliability of the various thermometer options available. But fear not, because in this article, I’m going to break down the different types of thermometers and provide guidance on which ones are most accurate for different age groups. Plus, I’ll share why I recommend steering clear of ear thermometers for pediatric use. Keep reading to make informed decisions about your child’s health.

As a pediatrician, I understand the importance of accurate temperature readings, especially when it comes to assessing the health of our little ones. However, with the plethora of thermometer options flooding the market, it’s no wonder families feel overwhelmed and doubtful about which one to rely on. From traditional oral thermometers to modern digital ones, each claims to offer precise measurements. But let’s delve deeper into the accuracy of different types of thermometers across various age groups.

Infants (0-3 months):

For newborns and infants, accuracy is paramount as they are more vulnerable to infections. While rectal thermometers are often deemed the gold standard for this age group due to their precision, they might not be the most parent-friendly option. Instead, I recommend temporal artery thermometers for their ease of use and reasonable accuracy.  Another option is pacifier thermometers, which can be reasonably accurate also.

Babies and Toddlers (3 months – 3 years):

As children grow, their tolerance for traditional methods like rectal thermometers diminishes. This is where temporal artery thermometers shine, offering quick and non-invasive readings. However, it’s essential to ensure proper technique for accurate results. For example, the thermometer and the child must have a reasonable amount of time to adjust to the ambient temperature and recover from any hot car rides or cold winter conditions.  Also, for an accurate measurement, there can be no visible moisture on the forehead.  Be sure to blot/ wipe dry the forehead before taking a temporal artery reading.  Alternatively, digital stick thermometers inserted under the armpit can be a reliable alternative for toddlers who won’t sit still for temporal artery readings (despite their amazingly rapid 3-6 second reading time.).

Young Children (4-6 years):

At this age, oral digital thermometers become more feasible as children can follow instructions better. These types of thermometers provide accurate readings if used correctly. However, it’s crucial to wait for a few minutes after eating or drinking to avoid skewed results.  Temporal artery thermometers continue to be accurate and rapid in this age group.

Older Children and Adolescents (7-17 years):

By this age, most children can handle traditional oral digital thermometers or tympanic membrane thermometers, which measure temperature through the ear canal. While ear thermometers are convenient, they are not my preferred choice due to the risk of inaccurate readings caused by earwax buildup or improper positioning.


For adults and older adolescents, temporal artery thermometers, oral digital thermometers, and tympanic thermometers are suitable options, provided they are used correctly. However, I still advise against relying solely on ear thermometers for accurate readings.

Why I Don’t Recommend Ear Thermometers for Pediatric Use:

While ear thermometers offer convenience and speed, they have limitations, especially in pediatric populations. Children’s ear canals are smaller and more prone to earwax buildup, leading to inaccurate readings. Moreover, obtaining a proper ear temperature measurement requires precise positioning, which can be challenging, particularly with young, fidgety children. Considering these factors, I urge parents to opt for alternative thermometer options for their children’s health assessments.  

Choosing the right thermometer for your child can be daunting, but understanding the pros and cons of each type can help you make informed decisions. Remember, accuracy and proper technique are crucial regardless of the thermometer you choose. Consult with your pediatrician if you’re unsure which thermometer is best suited for your child’s age and condition. Together, we can ensure your child’s health is in the best hands.

Read Also: Tips For Well Care Visits / Check-Ups

Sky Pittson, MD, February, 2024

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