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Children's Health

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Thermometers: A Parent's Guide


WebMD Feature

It used to be easy for parents to choose a thermometer: They only had one choice! But on today's market, there are many types and price ranges from which to choose. They all do the job, but choosing the best one for your child's age and temperament will make the task of getting a reading accurate, easy and quick.

Mercury and Glass

It used to be the only choice in town, but don't scoff at this old-fashioned thermometer. Accurate and economical, the big drawback here is the time it takes to get a reading: three minutes both orally and rectally. Breakage is also a problem, so handle with care.

Age group:

Rectal type, under 3
Oral type, 3 and up

Cost: 3 to 5 dollars

Underarm Thermometer

Easy to use, this thermometer is held in the armpit for a few seconds. This method is user-friendly and is accurate if kept firmly under the arm for the time required. Good for children who won't tolerate oral or rectal readings.

Age group: Birth and up

Cost: 12 to 50 dollars, depending on model

Pacifier Thermometer

An easy solution if your toddler resists using a regular thermometer. This clever thermometer is hidden in a pacifier nipple. The reading takes three minutes and to be accurate the thermometer should stay in the child's firmly closed mouth for the entire three minutes.

Age group: 1 to 3 years

Cost: 5 dollars

Digital Thermometer

This modern-day version of the old-fashioned thermometer has a distinct advantage -- speed. Readings usually take one minute or less, and the digital thermometer beeps to let you know for sure when it is done. The drawback -- it is dependent on batteries and therefore may not have power when you need it most.

Age group:

Rectal type, under 3
Oral type, 3 and up

Cost: 8 to 15 dollars

Forehead Thermometer

This strip thermometer is held against your child's forehead for one to two minutes to get a reading. It's easy to use, but many doctors say the results are, at best, a ballpark figure. Not for times when accuracy is critical.

Age group: Birth and up

Cost: 2 to 5 dollars

Ear Thermometer

This digital thermometer takes a quick and painless temperature when placed in the child's ear for just two seconds. However, you must take care to use it properly or the reading won't be accurate. Read and follow the instructions carefully to get the best results. The big drawback here is cost.

Age group: 1 and up

Cost: 60 dollars and up, depending on model

Reviewed on November 18, 1999

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