What the best digital thermometer has

  • Accurate temperature reading. A thermometer that doesn't give the correct temperature reading is useless. Getting the most accurate reading can help determine the next course of medical action.
  • Quick results. A few basic digital thermometers can take a full minute or longer to produce a reading, which is difficult when dealing with small children. The best digital thermometers offer fast readings in 10 seconds or less.
  • Convenient testing locations. The ideal testing location (rectal, oral, underarm or forehead) depends on the typical usage and the age of the patient, but rectal temperatures are said to be the most accurate and are ideal for children ages 3 and under.
  • Backlit display. Digital thermometers with a backlit display are easier to read in the dark, although some users say it's not an essential feature.
  • Fever alert. Some digital thermometers offer an audible fever alert to let you know if you or your child has a high temperature, which takes the guesswork out of reading the display.
  • Memory to store prior readings. Digital thermometers with an internal memory that stores the last measurement (some store up to 30 readings) are convenient and eliminate the need to document middle-of-the-night measurements.
  • Long battery life. Whether a digital thermometer uses a button cell battery or standard alkaline batteries, models that feature a long battery life are more convenient for long-term use.

Know before you go

Consider the age of the patient. Most physicians advise a rectal thermometer for infants, but advocate for other types of models for older people to lessen the risk of injury that can come from movement with a rectal thermometer. If the person whose temperature you're taking is prone to moving or has a lowered ability to stay still during a reading, a less-invasive thermometer or one that provides quicker results could be the answer.

When do readings usually take place? For a sick newborn, parents may want to take temperature readings during the night to help the infant rest, while older children and adults may have their temperatures taken during the day. Several aspects of thermometers, including how invasive the thermometer is and how loud a confirmation sound is can affect whether a person wakes up from a reading.

Do you need to document temperatures over time? If you're using a digital thermometer for fertility tracking or for a chronic illness that requires ongoing documentation, a thermometer with a larger storage capacity is more convenient. Some digital thermometers store a greater number of readings, such as 20 or 30, so you don't have to document constantly, something that can be especially helpful when trying to conceive.

Will you be using the thermometer for more than one person? If you're looking for a digital thermometer for the whole family, look for a model with disposable probe covers or an easy-to-clean probe. Thermometers that can take readings from multiple body parts, such as under the arm and orally, are more versatile for multi-person use.

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