When I was a kid, I rarely got sick. However, if I did go down, I tended to go down hard. Illness for me almost always involved a seriously high temperature, which often culminated in me either vomiting or passing out temporarily. It was like my body reached such a boiling point I either needed to purge whatever ailed me or I was just going to check out and hope that when I came to things had improved. My mum’s sure fire way of establishing how serious my temperature was involved sticking her hand under my armpits and assessing conditions. She would then declare such scientifically robust results as, “Oooh, yeah, you’re pretty warm.” Or, “Not too bad.” Ironically, temperatures taken from the armpit tend to be the least accurate and that’s with a thermometer, not just your hands doing the measuring. Knowing which thermometer to choose for your family can be as unclear as my mum’s measurement of temperature so here are some directions to help you make the best choice possible. 

Typically, there are two types of thermometer; touch or remote. A touch style thermometer will need to make contact with the body, whilst a remote thermometer can measure body temperature without having to make contact with the skin. Both have pros and cons, with the decision of which to get really dependent upon your context. Let's start with contact thermometers.

Contact Thermometers

These are the most common household thermometer and work by using electronic heat sensors to measure the body’s temperature. These can be utilised on a variety of areas, making contact with the forehead, mouth, armpit or rectum. As discussed before, the armpits often provide the least accurate reading due to being outside of the body. This logic obviously also applies to the forehead. 

The rectum is the go to for the most accurate reading, particularly for very young children, up to the age of three. After that you may have trouble convincing them that this is their best option. If they weren’t already feeling uncomfortable due to their temperature, being probed may really push them over the edge. Thankfully, the mouth also delivers quite accurate results, so long as it is closed whilst recording the temperature. There are some potential threats to the accuracy of an oral reading though that need to be considered. Make sure that no food or drink has been consumed at least 15 minutes prior to taking the reading as the temperature of the food or drink may skew the findings. Also, if the person is unwell they may struggle to breathe properly whilst keeping their mouth shut, thus impacting the accuracy of the reading. 

In summary:


  • Everyone in the family can use them, from infant to adult.
  • They can measure temperature from a variety of different parts of the body, which can be helpful depending upon the illness.
  • They provide quite an efficient reading.


  • They may cause discomfort when recording someone’s temperature. Particularly for children if taking their temperature rectally.
  • External factors may influence the accuracy when recording the temperature orally or from the forehead and underarms. 

Hot tip: If you’ve got an infant in the family and are planning on using your contact thermometer rectally at some stage, make sure that you grab two and label them clearly because some things are not meant to be shared.

Remote Thermometers

Thanks to Covid and the increased need for fever screening before entering many public indoor settings, these have become a pretty familiar sight over the last few years. Particularly the first type we will discuss, which looks a bit like you’re a bank teller being held at gunpoint. The lack of need for contact is an obvious benefit here, where the sharing of a thermometer would create all sorts of health and logistical issues. It’s hard to imagine the security guard outside the government venue imposing some sort of probe based temperature measurement on a queue of people. This first type of remote thermometer is known as a temporal artery thermometer. Also thanks to Covid, the market has been flooded with poor quality versions of these so be conscious of this if selecting one.

Temporal Artery Thermometer:


  • These thermometers are really efficient and far less intrusive than the other options so people are generally willing to undertake them.
  • The lack of intrusion makes them a great option for children of all ages. Yes, I’m looking at you dad, with the man flu. 


  • Temporal artery thermometers are typically more expensive than most of the other options so if you’re not planning on using it regularly and don’t require the swift result they offer then it might not be the best economic choice.
  • Most importantly, they tend to be less accurate than other types, which can be a real concern if someone in the family is actually ill. A host of factors can impact the accuracy. Poor technique, such as having the thermometer too far from the forehead may return an incorrect temperature. Direct sunlight, cold external temperatures and even a sweaty forehead can all wreak havoc on the accuracy of the reading. For this reason, they may not be the best personal family choice, where contact with the thermometer is less of a concern. 

Tympanic Thermometer

These remote ear thermometers use an infrared ray to measure the temperature inside the ear canal. 


  • If you position them well they are incredibly swift and don’t tend to cause discomfort for children or adults.  


  • If you have a newborn in the family, they aren’t suitable for anyone under the age of six months.
  • Small or curved ears can impact upon their accuracy, hence their inappropriateness for newborns. Ear wax can also skew the reading.

The last option to be aware of is the old fashioned mercury thermometer. These are a major no go as they are typically glass, can break and the mercury inside them is highly toxic. Don’t use them but also don’t just throw them away as they will need to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Contact your local council to see what your options are in regards to hazardous waste disposal.

As mentioned earlier, the best choice for thermometers is really contextual but now you can make the best choice for your needs. 

Stay cool.

Floyd - Senior Pharmacist


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