An elevated body temperature is often a symptom of a more serious medical condition, such as an infection or flu. However, the traditional methods for getting that information have a few drawbacks, especially when the patient is a child. An oral thermometer provides accurate results, but a young child isn't always capable of holding it in place long enough. A rectal thermometer eliminates that issue, but it's invasive and uncomfortable. One alternative growing in popularity is an ear thermometer, also known as an aural thermometer.
An ear thermometer sends out a painless infrared beam that measures the radiant heat of the patient's ear drum. Once properly positioned, this process only takes a few seconds, and the results are comparable to oral or rectal thermometers. As a bonus, many ear thermometers can also be used to scan the patient's forehead. This is especially useful at night, when the patient may be sleeping.
If you are in the market for an ear thermometer, read our helpful shopping guide. Although ear thermometers are designed primarily for older toddlers and children, they can also be used by adults for faster results. At the top of our list is the Braun Digital Ear Thermometer ThermoScan 5 IRT6500, a highly accurate model that is comfortable to use and easy to read.
Because newborns and babies under the age of six months cannot hold a digital thermometer, many parents and pediatricians use a rectal thermometer instead. However, children over the age of six months should be able to tolerate a less invasive and more comfortable ear thermometer. By age four, many children have developed the motor skills to use a digital thermometer, but there is no reason parents should stop using an ear thermometer.
Adolescents and even adults may prefer to use an ear thermometer for faster results or more comfortable testing. When shopping for an ear thermometer, buyers should consider the age of the intended users, as well as their reactions to more invasive rectal or oral thermometers.
Ease of use
An ear thermometer should be a fairly straightforward diagnostic tool to operate, but some brands are easier to use than others. Proper positioning inside the ear canal is critical for an accurate reading but finding the right spot can be challenging. Some ear thermometers make this task easier by emitting guide tones. Others include a sensor that can read the patient's forehead for a body temperature. Many ear thermometer probes send a pulse of infrared light to the eardrum, which is why the thermometer should be easy to position.
A number of people believe that a rectal or oral thermometer will provide a much more accurate reading than an ear or forehead thermometer, but this is not true. A properly calibrated ear thermometer should provide an accurate body temperature reading every time. As with any thermometer, there may be slight fluctuations between readings, but there is no reason to add or subtract from the results of an ear thermometer reading. Be sure the battery is in good condition and the probe is positioned correctly.
A quality ear thermometer should have a digital display that is easy to read, especially under low-light conditions. Many displays are backlit, so users can read the results without disturbing the patient. The temperature reading should be large enough to read from a distance, since some users may want to take several readings in succession without the need for repositioning. Many ear thermometers also provide electronic beeps or other audio cues to alert for fever.
A single ear thermometer can be used on multiple patients, but using the same probe cover can cause cross-contamination. This is why some manufacturers include color-coded probe covers that are associated with different patients. For caretakers dealing with ear infections or other contagious conditions, having a separate probe cover for each patient is a good idea.
When diagnosing an illness in a young child, a pediatrician will often request a log containing all of the patient's body-temperature readings during a certain time. Some ear thermometers make this assignment much easier by electronically recording a set number of readings and producing those results on demand.
An entry-level ear thermometer should cost around $20, and it may even have a forehead sensor and color-coded probe covers. Midrange models from recognized medical brands can cost between $30 and $40, while higher-end thermometers with electronic guidance and multiple features retail for at least $40 in medical-supply stores.
Q. Can I use an ear thermometer on my three-month-old son?
A. The minimal suggested age for using an ear thermometer is six months, although many pediatricians recommend waiting until the child has reached his or her first birthday. A rectal thermometer should provide a more accurate reading for children under six months old.
Q. Are the readings of an ear thermometer the same as an oral, rectal, or forehead thermometer?
A. Yes, an ear thermometer's readings should be interpreted the same way you would interpret an oral or forehead (temporal) thermometer. Anything over 98.6ºF is above normal, while a reading of 100.4ºF or higher would be indicative of a fever.
Our take: This ear and forehead thermometer from iProven meets the needs of adult users who seek a quicker result than a traditional oral thermometer provides.
What we like: Does not require disposable probe covers. Dual ear and forehead function. Includes an audible fever alarm. Back-lit display can be read in low-light situations.
What we dislike: Alarm cannot be muted for overnight or nap-time readings. Affected by changes in room temperature.
Michael Pollick is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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