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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best thermometers for children

Worrying about your children when they're sick is one of the many scary parts of being a parent, but how can you tell the difference between the sniffles and a more serious ailment? A high temperature is usually a sign that your child is unwell and may need to see a doctor. That's why it's vital to own a quality children’s thermometer as part of your childcare arsenal.

What makes a thermometer suitable for children, and how do you know which one to pick? You'll find a wide range of different types of thermometers, all with their own pros and cons, which can make figuring out which one to select all the more difficult.

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Kids of different ages have different normal temperature ranges. The most high-tech thermometers for kids let you input your child's age so the device can tell you if your child is running a fever.

Thermometer types

Stick thermometers

Traditionally, stick thermometers were made of glass and contained mercury (or, later, other less toxic substances). Higher temperatures made the liquid mercury expand and rise up the calibrated tube. Do NOT use a mercury thermometer. These thin glass devices filled with silvery metal can break and release toxic levels of mercury fumes. In fact, if you have a mercury thermometer at home, you should remove it.

Today, almost all stick thermometers are digital. Most can be used to take your child's temperature either orally, rectally, or axillary (under the armpit). These thermometers tend to be inexpensive and accurate. However, it can be difficult to take oral or axillary temperatures from very young or fidgety children. Though most parents prefer not to take rectal temperatures, oral thermometer use is not recommended until a child is age 4 years of age or older.

Price: Basic digital stick thermometers tend to cost between $10 and $15. You can find some for less than $10, but they may not be of the best quality.

Expert Tip
Rectal thermometers should always be used for babies.
BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

In-ear thermometers

These thermometers have a tapered probe that you gently stick inside your child's ear to measure the temperature. Your success may vary as to whether your child will comply with this – lots of kids are happy to sit still for a few seconds to have their temperature taken in this way, but others object to it. It's also worth noting that this method doesn't give accurate measurements when used on babies younger than three months old.

Price: Expect to pay between $20 and $30 for an average in-ear thermometer, though you can spend up to $100 on a physician-grade model.

Noncontact forehead thermometers

This is a newer variety of forehead thermometers that you only need to point at your child's forehead to get a temperature reading, which is perfect for parents of kids who won't sit still. While these thermometers are extremely easy to use and great for kids who won't tolerate having their temperature taken in other ways, they're marginally less accurate than stick or in-ear thermometers.

Price: Noncontact thermometers generally cost between $15 and $40, but those on the lowest end of the price spectrum aren't quite as effective.

Forehead strip thermometers

These are flexible thermal strips that you place on your child's head to get a rough reading of the temperature. "Rough" is the keyword here. These thermometers aren't very accurate, so we wouldn't recommend using them unless you have no other option available.

Price: Forehead strip thermometers tend to be inexpensive. A pack of ten reusable strips costs as little as $5 to $10.

Pacifier thermometers

If your baby happily takes a pacifier, it's much easier to take an oral temperature with a pacifier thermometer than with a stick model. While they're a great idea, pacifier thermometers do have some drawbacks. The results aren't accurate until babies are three months old – so newborns need not apply – plus these thermometers tend to be slow to return results.

Price: Pacifier thermometers are priced around the $10 mark.

Expert Tip
Tympanic thermometers read infrared heat waves from the eardrum and can be used on children aged 6 months and older, but they're not reliable for younger babies, whose ear canals are too narrow. To get a correct temperature for children over one-year-old, pull the ear back and up and then aim the tip of the ear probe between the opposite eye and ear.
BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

Children’s thermometer features

Ease of use

When taking a child's temperature, you don't want to waste time, so thermometers for kids should be easy to use. Choose a thermometer that only requires a press of a button or two to work. If it feels like you need an advanced degree in engineering to operate it, send it back. The last thing you want is to be wrestling with your thermometer when you have an upset, possibly sick child on your hands.

Accuracy

This is arguably the most important feature of a thermometer. An inaccurate thermometer could misread your child's high temperature, meaning you might not seek medical attention when needed. Or it could prompt an unnecessary trip to the emergency room if it registers your child's temperature as higher than it really is. A quality thermometer should be accurate to within 0.1°F to 0.2°F. That said, some methods of taking temperature are more accurate than others. Oral or rectal temperatures are generally considered the most accurate, but it isn't always practical to take readings this way. In-ear thermometers are generally extremely accurate (except in newborns), but excess earwax can affect readings.

Display

Most thermometers for children have LCD display screens. The display should be large enough that you can easily read the results. Ideally, it should be backlit, too, because this means you can read the display in a darkened room.

Response time

A thermometer with a quick response time is a huge benefit when taking a child's temperature. Anyone who has tried to coax a wriggly child to stay still for 30 seconds while a thermometer does its job will attest to this. Some high-end kids' thermometers return results in just one or two seconds, which is incredible, but a response time of ten seconds or less is still pretty great. Check the product description to find the response time. Manufacturers tend to publicize quick response times, so if you have to search to find any mention of it, odds are it's not especially fast.

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expert Tip

Oral thermometers are not recommended until a child is age four or older.

 

BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

Tips

  • Decide if your thermometer needs an internal memory. Some models can store a small number – generally, two to six – previous readings so you can track temperatures to see if your child is getting better or worse.

  • Check what kind of batteries the thermometer uses. And see if they’re included with the purchase. It's a wise idea to keep some extra batteries on hand, too.

  • Always read the instruction manual carefully. Be sure to do so before taking your child's temperature for the first time with your new thermometer. Incorrect use can lead to inaccurate readings.

  • Think about any allergies your child has. Many thermometers have soft latex tips, so those models should be avoided if your little one is allergic to latex. Choose a hypoallergenic or noncontact thermometer instead.
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Some dual-function thermometers can take both in-ear and non-contact forehead temperatures.

FAQ

Q. What is the correct temperature for a healthy child?

A. There isn't a single "correct" temperature for a healthy child because kids' temperatures can vary between 97°F and 99°F depending on age, time of day, what they've eaten, and their individual base temperature. That said, anything above 101°F in babies and 101.4°F in children is considered a fever.

Expert Tip
Remember that being outdoors on a cold day may cause a low reading. It is a good idea to wait 15 minutes after coming indoors to take the child’s temperature.
BestReviews Baby and Child Expert

Q. When should I seek medical advice for my child's fever?

A. You should call a doctor if your baby is less than three months old and has a temperature of 100.4°F or higher, or if an older baby or young child has a temperature 102°F or higher. Go to the emergency room right away if the fever is accompanied by a dark rash that doesn't get paler when pressed, if your child has trouble breathing, if your child is extremely cranky or extremely sleepy, or if your child is in severe pain.

Q. Will my thermometer alert me if my child's temperature is too high?

A. Although not all have this feature, a significant number of thermometers for kids have a fever alarm or color-coded system that alerts you to an elevated temperature.

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