Thursday, August 28, 2008


My daughter has been running a fever this past week. As any household knows, finding the thermometer and using it correctly is like finding the flashlight and having good batteries in it during a power outage. I cannot imagine how my parents managed with oral/rectal thermometers or those crazy strips we placed on our heads. While mercury thermometers were accurate it could take 30 seconds to a minute for a reading and insertion could be a challenge. The forehead thermometers were more like a hypercolor tee-shirt than a medical device.

We are currently using an underarm digital thermometer which takes minutes to work but seems pretty accurate. Of course for a sick child, a minute is an eternity unless they are sleeping.

Today there is a dizzying array of oral/rectal thermometers, forehead thermometers and the infrared ear thermometers. The price array is equally dizzying from $5 to $200 for the ones used in the doctor’s office.

Accuracy is wildly debated, but ultimately boils down to proper use. No device is immune to operator error. I got a kick out of the review of the forehead thermometer that you stick on and leave attached to monitor a fever over time. No holding the baby down, just look him/her straight in the forehead and see if the temperature is up or down. They are disposable due to the sticky back and sold in packs of 5 or 10.

The classic technique that I still feel most confident in is applying my forehead to the forehead of the individual whose temperature is in question. If they feel hot, then a fever is indicated. If they feel the same, then no fever is indicated.

My thought is that we will eventually break down and shell out the bucks for a high end infrared thermometer. It can be very accurate, is non-intrusive and amortizing the price over a few years is not terribly expensive for peace of mind. As an inaccurate reading can prompt an emergency room visit, being comfortable with the use of an accurate thermometer is very important. The biggest downside is the requirement for accurate positioning which is not easy to communicate to a child care provider. For those days it is best to have a forehead thermometer handy and a pack of 5 strips are only $5

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