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How to buy the best digital thermometer

By Olivia Howes

What you need to know to buy a no-fuss digital thermometer for your baby or child.

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The best digital thermometers are easy and quick to use, non-invasive and reliable. You can spend a few pounds or up to £60, so it's worth researching what type is right for your family.

What do I need to know about digital thermometers?

Being able to take your baby's temperature quickly and accurately is something that a lot of parents really value.

There are lots of methods of taking a child's temperature. Traditionally it was advised that small children should have their temperature taken with a thermometer placed under the armpit, as they may bite down on a thermometer placed in the mouth. 

In the past, many of these types of thermometer were made using mercury, but these are no longer sold and shouldn't be used. Simple digital thermometers have replaced them. They are easy to use and inexpensive (from £5) but do require that you keep the thermometer in place under the arm for around 15-30 seconds, which can be tricky to achieve with a squirming toddler.

You can usually also use these types of thermometers for rectal measurements, but again this requires a child to stay still for some time.

The NHS doesn't advise using strip-type forehead thermometers for gaining an accurate reading as they show the temperature of the skin rather than the body.

Newer types of digital thermometer now exist that are placed in the ear or take no-contact readings. They've been designed to make the process of taking a temperature less invasive and quicker. These are the types of thermometers our first look reviews focus on.

Head straight to our first look digital thermometer reviews. 

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Digital ear thermometers

In-ear thermometers have become popular with parents and health professionals as they take a reading after a second or two. They use infrared to measure the heat generated inside the ear.

The reading may not be accurate if the thermometer isn't correctly placed in the ear and earwax can also affect the accuracy. They shouldn't be used with newborns as their ear canals are too small.

What digital ear thermometer features should I look out for?

Ear thermometers (also known as tympanic thermometers) are designed so that they disturb babies as little as possible, even allowing parents to check on their little one when he or she is asleep, making life a little bit easier.

Good ear thermometers need to be simple to use on even the most wriggly children. Simple one touch operation is best so you don't have to reach for the instruction manual in the small hours of the morning. 

Look for models with backlights so you can read the results without turning lights on.

Some in-ear thermometers require you to buy disposable probe covers, which is hygienic but an additional cost to consider.

Among other ear thermometers, we asked parents to look at the Braun Thermoscan 7 IRT6520. Braun claims to be the brand most often used and recommended by doctors.

And find out what parents thought of the Vicks Gentle Touch Behind Ear thermometer, which doesn't actually go inside the ear canal but is placed behind the ear.

Digital infrared no contact thermometers

Even newer to the scene than ear thermometers are infrared no-contact thermometers. These generally are simply pointed at a person's forehead (usually at a distance of around 5cm, but this can vary from brand to brand) and give a reading very quickly. 

They're obviously appealing to parents as you may not even have to disturb your sleeping child to get a measurement.

What digital infrared no-contact thermometer features should I look out for?

A great infrared no-contact thermometer should be easy to use and quick to give a measurement. A back light for seeing readings in the dark and a traffic-light system to indicate a fever are popular features. Some also have the ability to measure room and surface (ie liquid) temperatures.

Another advantage is that they are hygienic and don't require probe covers like some ear thermometers do, although you must make sure you keep the infrared sensor clean.

Find out what our parent testers thought of the Braun No Touch and Forehead thermometer and Medisana Infrared Clinical thermometer in our first look digital thermometer reviews.

We've also tested a baby monitor which can also take your child's temperature. Read our review of the Motorola MBP27T.

Smart digital thermometers

Some thermometers can now be connected up to apps on your smartphone or tablet so that you can store a larger database of past readings or connect up to health advice. This technology is very much in its infancy, but we expect lots of development in this area to be on the horizon.

We did ask a parent tester for their view of the Miniland Baby Thermoadvanced Plus thermometer which does have some smart features such as an associated app.

Taking accurate temperature readings

All of these types of digital thermometers may need to be used in slightly different ways to obtain accurate readings, so it's important you read the instructions carefully and familiarise yourself with using the thermometer so it's familiar when you really need it. 

For example, some no-contact thermometers require scanning across the forehead and others work by aiming at one point.

Both thermometer and patient should be given time to acclimatise to the environment that they're in if there's been a significant change in temperature.

When using no-contact thermometers, hair must be pushed back off the forehead and any perspiration wiped away.

Now visit our first look digital thermometer reviews.

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