With cold and flu season dragging on as we await springtime — not to mention rising anxiety over the spreading coronavirus — you might find yourself breaking out the thermometer at the first sign of illness. It’s important to remember that temperature is only one factor in assessing health. “Taking a temperature is more of an art than a science,” says Michael Richardson, a doctor of family medicine at One Medical. Pediatrician Wendy Sue Swanson adds, “it’s helpful to know a child’s temperature, but you don’t need to focus so much on the number. Most important is that you treat the person, not the thermometer reading.”
Still, measuring your — or your child’s — temperature is useful when you’re sick, so you’re going to want an accurate thermometer on hand. Richardson explains that it’s a good idea to stock a few thermometers, as different varieties serve different purposes: “A temporal [forehead] thermometer is convenient but can be skewed by ambient temperature and sweat. A rectal thermometer is the gold standard, especially for infants, but not very practical for older children and adults.” Below are four expert-recommended options (for kids and adults) that are worth keeping in your medicine cabinet.
Best forehead thermometer
When it comes to convenience, especially for children, experts agree you can’t beat a forehead thermometer, which measures temperature through an infrared scanner. Pharmacist Joanna Lewis of the Pharmacist’s Guide uses the Exergen with her own children because it ensures she gets an accurate reading almost instantly without her little ones “wiggling around.” Registered nurse Brittney Wilson of The Nerdy Nurse agrees that the Exergen is “best because it gives fast, non-invasive, and accurate readings.” She tells us, “I’ve used these and patients always appreciated the quick and comfortable reading.” Dermatologist Erum Ilyas points out that forehead thermometers are also more hygienic than other types: “I find that people do not usually clean thermometers well, so any version that requires temperature readings from the armpit or the mouth is more likely to carry infection from previous uses. Forehead thermometers minimize that risk.”
Best oral thermometer
When we polled medical professionals about their medicine-cabinet essentials, most agreed that, at least for adults, any digital oral thermometer is fine. “It doesn’t require any special technique, it’s small and easily transportable, and will give the most consistent reading to compare with online reference standards,” says pharmacist Regina Moore, founder of Pharmacists Connect. If you want a more specific recommendation, dermatologist Zain Husain calls the Vicks ComfortFlex “reliable, fast and, accurate.”
Best smart thermometer
For a thermometer that makes it easy to track temperature over time, giving you context to each measurement, Timothy Aungst, pharmacist and founder of The Digital Apothecary, likes the Kinsa, which syncs to an app on your phone via Bluetooth. Along with recording when you took your temperature and tracking your symptoms, he says “it can help set reminders of when to give medications, and has age-based information if you are wondering what is normal or not.” The Kinsa can be used orally, rectally, or under the armpit, and lets you create profiles for multiple family members.
Best basal body temperature thermometer
Basal body temperature, or your temperature when you’re totally at rest (usually taken in the morning before getting out of bed) is helpful for women monitoring their fertility, as small changes in basal body temperature may increase slightly during ovulation. Amanda Carney, a certified holistic health coach at The Well, recommends the Femometer Vinca II to “track ovulation as part of the rhythm method, which can be used as a natural birth control option or for fertility.” With measurements accurate down to 0.09-degrees, it’s helpful for monitoring small changes. Like the Kinsa, it also links to an app which can be used to track your cycle.