You know what it’s like when your child gets sick. You don’t know whether to bring them to the doctor and when you call to find out, they want to know if they have a fever and just how high their temperature is. Only thing is that’s not really simple to find out if your child isn’t crazy about the thermometer, especially when they’re not feeling well. And now, with so many thermometers to choose from, how do you know which one to choose? The standby your parents used—the old mercury model—is no longer recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for environmental reasons. So what do you use?
Dr. Jennifer Shu with the AAP says the easiest answer depends on your child’s age. She says for under six months, “The most accurate way to do it is through a rectal thermometer.” But, an underarm thermometer is fine if the baby isn’t acting too sick and you’re not comfortable with the rectal option. She cautions, if the reading is over 99 you will need to double-check it with a rectal reading.
If your child is older than six months you can try the ear thermometer or the temporal type. How do you properly use the temporal, or forehead, model? Dr. Shu says, “Swipe it across the child’s forehead and behind the ear and that tends to be very reliable for 6 months and over. It’s very easy because the child doesn’t have to sit still for very long and it’s incredibly fast and painless.”
There are also strips that sit on the forehead, pacifier type models, and even some that light up for easy readings in the dark. The AAP says don’t worry if one type is a degree or two off from another method. The key is to make sure your doctor knows how the fever was figured. “Tell us how you did it. Try not to do any adding or subtracting at home and we’ll just take the whole picture into account,” says Dr. Shu. And, be careful about things that will impact the reading, like eating or drinking something cold or hot just before it’s taken if you’re doing it orally, and allow for outside interference if you’re using other methods, says Dr. Shu, “If the child has been outside in the cold for a while it could be inaccurate if you take a temperature with an ear thermometer right away, so wait for about 15 minutes and let the child’s temperature warm up to the regular body temperature and the room temperature as well.”
Another word of caution for parents from Dr. Shu is to take your cue from the child’s behavior. Changes in mood, alertness, sleeping and eating behaviors may also indicate issues you need to address with the doctor.