Tips for Checking Your Child's Temperature

Pro and Cons of the Different Thermometer Types

Among all of the symptoms that kids may have, fevers seem to be the one that parents worry about the most. You may wonder if a fever is too high and whether you are using the best method to check your child's temperature. Here are some tips that can help.

When to Call a Pediatrician for a Fever
Verywell / Kelly Miller

Types of Thermometer

There are many devices used to measure a child's temperature, including an ear thermometer, temporal thermometer (which you apply to the forehead), or a mercury-free oral or rectal thermometer.

Rectal temperatures are usually around 1 degree higher than oral thermometers and 1-1/2 degrees higher than axillary (armpit) temperatures.

Despite what people may tell you, you don't have to add or subtract a degree when using a temporal thermometer or ear thermometer. Simply report the temperature to the pediatrician, and let them know the type of thermometer you used.

Thermometer Pros and Cons

The choice of a thermometer is largely a personal one and is based on everything from the age of your child to price. Keep in mind that there are pros and cons to most thermometers.

  • Mercury-free rectal thermometers are the most accurate but can be uncomfortable. For this reason, they are usually reserved for infants under 3 months.
  • Mercury-free oral thermometers are also accurate but are typically reserved for older children since they need to be held in the mouth for at least a minute. Most can also be used under the arm as an axillary thermometer.
  • Ear thermometers, while fast and easy, need to be placed in the ear correctly and may deliver an inaccurate reading if there is earwax. They are generally used for children 6 months and older.
  • Temporal thermometers are also fast and easy. Their only real drawback may be their price.

If using an ear or temporal thermometer, it is sometimes helpful to take two or three readings and average them out to attain a more accurate result.

Mercury thermometers should no longer be used due to the risk of breakage and mercury poisoning. Call your local trash service to see if there is a hazardous waste facility in your area. Do not throw it into the garbage.

Additional Helpful Tips

There are other tips to consider when taking your child's temperature:

  • You don't necessarily have to wake a child to check his or her temperature. Neither do you have to give them a fever reducer if they are sleeping comfortably.
  • If you want to test your thermometer's accuracy, bring it to your pediatric visit and compare it to the one your pediatrician uses.
  • Remember that your child's temperature doesn't tell you how sick the child is or what illness he or she may have. If you are uncertain as to the cause of an illness, call your healthcare provider.
1 Source
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  1. National Collaborating Centre for Women's and Children's Health (UK). Thermometers and the detection of fever. In: Feverish Illness in Children: Assessment and Initial Management in Children Younger Than 5 Years. London: Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (UK); 2013.

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
 Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.