Buying guide for best ear thermometers
If you notice your child is cranky for no reason, it’s time to get out the thermometer and check for a fever. Unfortunately, traditional methods for taking your child’s temperature usually leave them even more irritable. Most young children can’t keep a thermometer in their mouths long enough to get a reliable measure, and no one enjoys getting a rectal reading.
Ear thermometers, also known as aural thermometers, bypass more invasive measuring methods while providing accurate temperature readings. Ear thermometers typically use an infrared sensor to measure the energy that radiates from the ear drum. Since ear drums are recessed within the head, they — like the area under the tongue — can give accurate results. And the results come much quicker than traditional sublingual temperature readings.
If a quicker, less invasive thermometer sounds good to you, keep reading to learn about the different features ear thermometers offer. When you’re done, be sure to check our recommendations of the best ear thermometers.
Who will use the ear thermometer?
When buying an ear thermometer; one of the most important factors to consider is the age of your children, or whomever will use it.
Ear thermometers are very accurate, but only for children who are at least six months old. In fact, some multi-mode thermometers are only recommended for use for children over a year old. This is because ear thermometer readings can be skewed if the ear canal is too small. Some experts say that temporal artery thermometers can give reliable results in young babies, but most pediatricians agree that rectal readings from digital thermometers are most accurate in children ages six months and younger.
If your child is at least six months old, an ear thermometer may be a good choice for your family. By around age 4, children should be able to keep a digital thermometer in their mouths long enough to get an accurate reading. However, if you’ve already invested in an ear thermometer, there’s no reason not to keep using it for older children and adults.
If you have multiple children, and at least one baby, thermometers with dual forehead and ear modes may be a wise investment for you. These thermometers can be used as ear thermometers in children who have reached the manufacturer’s designated age, or as temporal scan thermometers for children who are younger.
Ear thermometer prices
The least expensive ear thermometers usually cost around $20. Thermometers in this price range don’t often come from household-name medical suppliers, but many make up for it by doubling as forehead scan thermometers and offering features like backlighting and color coding. They should allow you to store a basic number of readings.
Thermometers in the middle price range usually cost about $30. Many in this price range will double as temporal scan thermometers and have backlighting. In addition, they may offer features like comfort tip probes and allow you to store more readings.
The highest-priced ear thermometers will cost $40 or more. Models in this price range are likely to come from recognized medical brands. Rather than offering dual modes, they will likely stick to one and do it well. They may not have as many bells and whistles as even cheaper brands, but often offer greater reliability.
Q. How can I make sure I get an accurate reading?
A. Every thermometer differs slightly, but the procedure is basically the same. They require more contact than temporal scan thermometers, and getting the alignment right is key. To get things properly aligned, gently pull the upper earlobe back to open up the ear canal. Slowly and gently insert the tip until you get a snug fit, then operate the thermometer as directed to measure the temperature. If you’ve achieved a good seal, you’ll get an accurate temperature reading. If you get the code “ERR” or “Error”, try again.
Q. My child’s temperature is above normal. When is it time to call the doctor?
A. While temperatures above 98.6°F are technically elevated, doctors don’t really consider it a fever until it hits 100.4°F. If an infant who is three months old or younger registers this temperature, it’s best to call the doctor. Babies who are three to six months old, though, are fine to stay at home and be monitored, as long as they are drinking fluids and behaving normally. Parents of these older babies should call the doctor if their fever hits 102°F, especially if your child is uncomfortable and lethargic. If your baby is older than six months, call the doctor if a 102°F fever lasts longer than a day. Call sooner if coughing or diarrhea accompany the fever, or if you suspect something is not right.
Q. The thermometer’s instructions say that I should clean the ear canal before using. But how?
A. Ear wax has many beneficial purposes, but can also skew temperature readings in ear thermometers. Ear thermometers measure temperature by bouncing an infrared light signal off the eardrum. If wax gets in the way, it can interfere with the reading. To clean the ear, first wipe away any wax that’s worked its way out of the ear canal. If you suspect there’s more dirt or wax that will affect accuracy, clean the most external part very carefully with a cotton swab, without actually going inside the ear canal, even a little bit. A cotton swab can damage the eardrum, so if you suspect significant wax buildup, find another way to take your child’s temperature and contact your doctor about wax removal.