There are a lot of different types of thermometers out there, each with their specifics, best-intended uses, as well as downsides. Whether you are a young parent with a baby or you have older children and need a new thermometer, it’s wise to research these different types carefully and find a thermometer that best suits your and your family’s needs. A good and high-quality thermometer will last you years and will help you in the direst situations – those of a sick child or family member. So, let’s take a look at baby ear thermometers and see how they compare to rectal, armpit or oral thermometers. Of course, we’ll also give you our recommendations for the best ear thermometers on the market right now.
Gone are the days of the simple glass mercury thermometer. These classic tools served people for centuries, but are deemed too dangerous by today’s standards. Some may say this is just the paranoid nature of modern generations and mercury thermometers are accurate, long-lasting and reliable, but their downside is nevertheless undeniable. Mercury thermometers are prone to breaking, especially in the hands of children, and when broken, the mercury vaporizes and can be inhaled by the child in an unhealthy dosage. Thankfully, there are alternatives.
Digital rectal thermometers are widely lauded as the most accurate thermometers out there. However, taking a temperature reading rectally is never pleasant, especially when you have to do it to a child, and even more so when it needs to be done repeatedly. That’s why, for home use, infrared ear thermometer, as well as digital oral or armpit thermometers are often recommended. Armpit thermometers are typically viewed as the least accurate ones, followed by oral thermometers. And that leads us to ear thermometers.
The ear thermometer accuracy has also been called into question by researchers. As the other non-rectal types, even the best ear thermometer – also known as “Aural” thermometer – is not as accurate as rectal thermometers. That’s why it’s important to always choose quality over price and make sure that you’ve bought a thermometer that is of the highest standards. A cheap ear thermometer can give your readings that are off by more than a whole point in the Celsius scale and this can lead to some serious health risks.
So, to help you avoid that, let’s start with several recommendations for the best ear thermometers currently on the market.
Top 3 Ear Thermometers:
Braun Thermoscan 7 IRT6520
The Thermoscan 7 IRT6520 clearly shows why Braun is lauded as a “no.1 brand among doctors”. This model features their patented Age Precision technology, as well as an age adjustable fever guidance. It also has the Braun patented pre-warmed tip, the ExacTemp technology for precise accuracy, and is quick and easy to use.
- Age precision technology
- ExacTemp positioning system
- It has 9 different memories, a Celsius / Fahrenheit switch, and more
- It’s quite pricey
- Tricky to use in the dark, as the bright display blinds the user
Braun Thermoscan 5 IRT6020
A more moderately priced, but still not inexpensive, this Braun ear thermometer offers a lot of the features of the previous model. The tip of this thermometer is gentle, soft and pre-warmed to 34°C for your comfort and for more accurate readings. It also comes with the Braun patented Exact Temp feedback system that helps you get easy and precise readings.
- Works with both Celsius and Fahrenheit
- ExacTemp positioning system
- Lens Filters included
- It’s a bit pricey
- The protective lid doesn’t have the best and most secure design
For a more budget-friendly option that doesn’t compromise the thermometer’s quality, the Hylogy MD-H30 is a great choice. It utilizes a highly sensitive and precise sensor from German Smiths Heiman GmbH in Wiesbaden and a high-quality microchip for exact readings. It has a great ergonomic design, a fever alarm, and is adjustable for Celsius and Fahrenheit.
- Works as both forehead and ear thermometer, as well as an ambient thermometer and object thermometer (i.e. food, milk, water, etc.)
- Has an illuminated LED display and a “Silent mode” for sleeping babies
- Measuring speed of up to 1 second
- Batteries are not rechargeable and expire quickly
How we picked the best ear thermometers?
Choosing the best items for the list above was tricky because there are a lot of things in ear thermometers that need to be taken into account. There are a lot of pros and cons to ear thermometers in general, so an in-debt comparison with other types of thermometers was also necessary. Not so much to judge ear thermometers compared to them, but in order to evaluate which are the characteristics that make a truly good ear thermometer.
Because of that, for this article we needed to go over not one but several product groups and niches. We read over dozens of other articles, we looked at hundreds of different products, we read countless ear thermometer reviews, and we even had to look into the science behind them all. We also needed to compare how even the best digital ear thermometers fared against rectal thermometers, as well as which ages they are most appropriate for. It is generally understood that inner ear thermometers are best suited for babies, but we also found some data that suggests otherwise. So, we had to evaluate whether an ear thermometer for adults is a better option over children’s ear thermometers.
Going over the specifics of how to use ear thermometers was also needed, even though they are made to seem pretty easy and simple to use. After that, came the countless charts and tables to help us compare different products.
Through all this hassle and work we identified several factors that needed to be featured in a product if it was to qualify for a “Best ear thermometer” list. First, obviously, was the accuracy. Taking temperature in ears is generally not the most accurate method we have, with rectal thermometers surpassing it by a lot, so it was important that the ear thermometers we recommend are truly the best there are. The best ear thermometer for baby and adult use alike needs to be almost pin-point accurate, because, after all, it’s literally a matter of life or death sometimes.
Additionally, flexibility and comfort are also important. Thermometers are not something you always use in calm and controlled environments – very often it’s the middle of the night, your child is screeching, you’re half asleep, and there’s chaos everywhere. For a good ear thermometer it’s important to be as easy and flexible to use as possible.
Longevity was also a factor, since thermometers are something that’s meant to last for years. Whatever we say about mercury glass thermometers, these things could last decades if you don’t break their glass casing. A lot of modern thermometers may not last for that long (we haven’t had that long to test them), but it’s important that when you buy them you can rest assured that you won’t have to think about buying another one any time soon.
And lastly, we also wanted the ear thermometers we recommend to be multifunctional. Thermometers are generally an item that should work for the entire family and not just about a baby during a very specific and short age period. Also, by “multifunctional” we mean an ear thermometer that can also double as a forehead or an object thermometer. This is important because there are situations where you’d rather take your child’s temperature through the forehead or you might just want to check the temperature of the milk or water you give him or her.
These are more or less the factors we used to construct the list above. While digging through all that research, however, we also learned a lot about how to use an ear thermometer, how they work, and much more. So, if you want to learn more about these devices, feel free to keep on reading.
A quick breakdown of ear thermometers
Ear thermometers work on the principle of detecting infrared radiation. Don’t get jittery from the word “radiation” – infrared radiation is quite simply the heat energy that’s expulsed from any warm object. It’s even how a lot of reptiles and snakes see the world – by detecting the infrared radiation of mammals, fish and birds. We, humans, don’t have the natural sensors to detect infrared, but that’s why we’ve developed them.
Ear thermometers utilize the infrared radiation that our bodies have to determine our exact temperature. The reason this is done in the ear is because the human eardrum turns out to be a very accurate body part to measure body temperature. All ear thermometers need to do is sense the infrared radiation coming out of the eardrum and process its intensity to determine the exact temperature of the patient.
The basic components of ear thermometers
Ear thermometers accomplish their task via several main components.
- An infrared sensor that senses the infrared radiation from the eardrum
- A microchip that processes the data and calculates the exact temperature of the patient
- A LED display that shows the result, as well as offer additional options such as a switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit, memorize different family members’ readings, and so on
Depending on the exact thermometer, there might be other components involved. Things such as lens filters, protector caps, additional sensors for non-ear readings, and so on. These auxiliary components depend on the specific model, however, and aren’t always present.
Potential problems with ear thermometers
While very handy and useful, ear thermometers are not perfect. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t buy one, but that you should understand their pros and cons, know when and for what you might want an ear thermometer, as well as know how best to use them to negate their cons. After all, thermometers are not some kind of luxury item, but are an essential helper in keeping our families healthy. So, what are some of the potential problems of ear thermometers you should keep in mind?
Their readings are not as precise as rectal thermometers. This drawback is one that goes for most types of thermometers and not just aural / ear ones. Still, it’s something that should be noted. The easiest way you can see if and that your ear thermometer doesn’t give exact readings is by simply getting a reading from both ears one after the other. It’s not uncommon for these readings to differ quite a bit, which can be very alarming for people. If the reading between both ears differs with more than one degree Celsius (or even less) this may not be a thermometer you want to use for your family’s wellbeing.
MD Rosalind L. Smyth is on record for WebMD saying: “In most clinical settings, the difference probably doesn’t represent a problem, but there are situations where 1 degree could determine whether a child will be treated or not.”
Smyth and researchers from the England’s University of Liverpool reviewed 31 different studies and compared ear and rectal thermometer readings of 4500 different infants and children.
According to their findings, a temperature of 100.4(F (38(C) measured with a rectal thermometer could vary between 98.6(F (37(C) and 102.6(F (39.2(C) when measured with an ear thermometer. Based on these findings, Smyth concluded that ear thermometers are OK for house usage when they are of a high enough quality, but shouldn’t be used by pediatricians as a main source of information.
Ear wax or just small and curved ear canals can cause interference and complicate the reading of the aural thermometer. These two factors are largely the reason why ear thermometers can sometimes be less precise than other devices. A proper cleaning of the ear is always advised before using an ear thermometer. Also, you might want to consult with an ENT doctor (ears, nose, and throat) on whether this type of thermometers is a good idea for your ears’ specific structure.
Severe ear infections can also compromise the readings of an ear thermometer as pediatrician Robert Walker says, which is ironic, since this is when you might want to use one.
Human eardrums are very sensitive and can be hurt with an ear thermometer. The way ear thermometers work doesn’t require them to be physically pressed against the person’s eardrum – they can stand at about a centimeter distance from the eardrum itself. However, while this minimizes the risk, it doesn’t completely negate it. A rowdy child or an uneasy baby can easily make a sudden and abrupt movement and hurt its eardrum on the thermometer. Incidents such as these are the reason why a lot of specialists advise against ear thermometers for babies that are younger than 6 months. Another thing that’s ill-advised is taking the temperature of a sleeping baby or child. A lot of ear thermometers (including a couple on our list) are advertised for “being so quiet and quick that they can take the temperature of a sleeping baby”. That’s very nice in and of itself, but trying to take the temperature of a sleeping child risks waking it, startling it, and having an accident. As quick and quiet as an ear thermometer can be, always be careful not to hurt your child’s eardrum with it.
So, as you can see, ear thermometers are not flawless. They can’t be used in any situation, they can give false readings under specific circumstances (or if they are just of poor quality), and a clumsy parent can sometimes hurt their child’s ear with them. Most of these drawbacks are manageable, however, if you buy a high-quality ear thermometer and if you know how and when to use it.
Why use an ear thermometer over any other type?
We already mentioned a couple of times that ear thermometers aren’t the most precise thermometers out there. Now that we understand their drawbacks, however, let’s take a look at the several reasons why they are still worth buying:
- Ear or Aural thermometers are exceptionally quick. A good ear thermometer can give you an accurate reading of your body temperature within one or two seconds. This is much faster than regular armpit thermometers and makes the old glass mercury thermometers feel ridiculous.
- Ear thermometers are very easy and comfortable to use. Rectal thermometers are a nightmare to use compared to the ease an aural one works with. You just put it on your ear and a moment later – it’s done. You can do it any time anywhere and no one will even bat an eye. This is largely the main reason why most people opt for an ear thermometer. You want to make sure that your baby or child is always healthy, but using a rectal thermometer several times per day can be a lot of trouble as well.
- Ear thermometers are still fairly accurate. We went extensively over the fact that ear thermometers are not as accurate as rectal ones, but it should also be said that they are far from being the most inaccurate ones either. Modern digital armpit thermometers are lauded as the most inaccurate option on the market right now and ear thermometers surpass them by a lot. If all you have at home right now is a digital armpit thermometer, consider replacing it or at least accompanying it with an ear thermometer as soon as possible. For small children and babies, in particular, armpit thermometers can be practically impossible to use accurately since babies and kids rarely stay still for long enough for an accurate reading.
- Some ear thermometers also double as a forehead thermometer, or ambient and object thermometer. That’s because ear and forehead thermometers work in a rather similar way – both measure infrared radiation. However, while ear thermometers measure it from the eardrum of the patient, forehead thermometers measure it from the temporal artery that’s located on our foreheads. Having a thermometer that works as both an ear thermometer and a temporal artery thermometer is a great asset for several reasons: 1) if the patient has ear wax, an ear infection or other problems with their ear canal, you’ll have the option to use the temporal artery functionality of the thermometer; 2) if you want, you can use both functionalities at the same time to compare their readings and get a more accurate picture of how the patient is feeling; 3) if you want to take your baby’s / child’s temperature without waking them, a temporal artery thermometer is a better option since it poses no risks of hurting the patient.
From all these factors, it’s easy to see why ear thermometers are so popular. It’s precisely through knowing and understanding their strengths and weaknesses that you’ll be able to buy a great ear thermometer and use it to its full effectiveness.
Brief summary of other thermometer types
To quickly look at the alternatives, here are the other types of thermometers you can use as well:
- Rectal thermometers. We mentioned how these are annoying and complicated to use, but at the same time, they are not as bad as they sound. The tip of the rectal thermometer needs to be inserted only 0.5 – 1 inches (1.3 – 2.6 cm) into the child’s rectum. All you need to do is turn the thermometer on, lubricate the tip, lay your child on the bed, lift his or her hips, and gently insert the tip. No force or pushing is required. So, while this isn’t really complicated by any stretch of the imagination, it’s still annoying and prompts parents to choose other types of thermometers.
- Oral thermometers. These thermometers’ tips are meant to be inserted below the tongue at the back of the throat. The lips should be pressed and the child shouldn’t have eaten or drunk anything in the past 15 minutes before taking the temperature reading. That last part sounds easy to go around, but it actually complicates things a bit, since sick children are usually given a lot of tea and medicine to consume on a regular basis. Oral thermometers are less accurate than rectal ones (as are all other types) but aren’t less accurate than ear thermometers.
- Armpit thermometers. These digital thermometers are most well-known since they are the direct successors of armpit glass mercury thermometers. They are, however, the least accurate modern digital thermometers, since the armpit isn’t as reliable as the mouth, rectum, ear or forehead.
- Forehead thermometers. These are probably the easiest thermometers to use and they work on the same principle as ear thermometers. They are also about as accurate as them.
When buying an ear thermometer, quality is really the main thing you should be looking at. Price really isn’t something you should look too hard at when buying a thermometer, regardless of its type. Thermometers are not luxury items, they are intended to keep you and your family alive and well. They are also supposed to last you for years, so any price difference between items should be negligible in the long run. Of course, looking for quality can be a tricky task since every brand claims their products are the best and user reviews are often not reliable. Some user reviews are ill-informed, others lack context, others are too old or too emotional, and some are even disingenuous. It takes a lot of reading and comparing to start getting a clear picture from user reviews alone, which is why we’ve written this article for you, together with the 3 suggestions for the best ear thermometers above.
Aside from simply looking for the best quality, you should also keep in mind the functionality of your future thermometer. It’s important to consider what you’re going to use it for – how big is your family, how old are the kids, how long do you plan / hope to use the thermometer, is it just for general prevention and detection, or do you have some serious health problems in your family, and so on. Having an ear thermometer that can work for babies, children and adults alike is a great asset. Also don’t forget to consider the device’s multifunction capabilities. A thermometer that can be used for more than just ear readings can be very useful in various different situations.
Once you’ve identified the exact type of thermometer you need and the different features you are looking for, it’s time to look for the best brands on the niche. The ones we’d recommend are: Welch Allyn, iProven, Vive, Braun, QQCute, Kinsa, Hylogy, Beurer, Innovo, Vicks, Paramed, and Medical Fitness Research.
Additional information about ear thermometers and how to use them
“The age question” is one of the chief pieces of misinformation that surrounds ear thermometers. Most people think that ear thermometers are intended for babies, since they make it easy to take a baby’s temperature. And indeed, that’s what most parents buy ear thermometers for. Most specialists, however, recommend these devices to be used only for babies that are at least 6 months old or even older. The reason is that a younger baby can be too rowdy and accidentally hurt his or her eardrum on the thermometer.
But to make things easier, here is an easy guideline on which types of thermometers are suitable for which ages:
- From birth to 3 months of age rectal thermometers are really the way to go. They are annoying to use, but 3-month-old babies can’t really object too much and in that age it’s important to focus on accuracy above anything else.
- From 3 months to 4 years is the next crucial period for children. There are a lot of health problems that can arise in this period, but rectal thermometers are becoming too annoying to use. Instead, you can use an ear thermometer (above 6 – 8 months of age) or temporal artery (forehead) thermometer. Oral or armpit thermometers are also an option, but most kids in this age range typically don’t stand still for long enough to form an accurate reading with an oral or armpit thermometer. In either case, it’s always advisable to have a rectal thermometer at hand.
- 4 years and older is a period where you can use pretty much anything you like. Most kids above 4 years should be mindful enough to hold an armpit or oral thermometer adequately for long enough, and ear or forehead thermometers remain good alternatives.
Living with and using ear thermometers
Maintaining a digital ear thermometer isn’t particularly complicated. Apart from making sure that you don’t drop or break it, everything else should be fine. Most ear thermometers work on batteries and so need them to be replaced every once in a while, but can usually last a long time. Also, most adequate thermometers have some kind of low-power alert on them. Still, it’s important to make sure that your ear thermometer is always ready for work since you don’t know when you’re going to need it.
In terms of usage, if the whole family is using the ear thermometer, using separate protector lids for each family member is advisable to prevent the spread of ear infections. Most good ear thermometers come with an assortment of such lids, however, so this shouldn’t be a problem either. As long as you keep the thermometer and the protector lids clean and safe, your aural thermometer should work for years without a hitch.
Like any other product group from any other niche, ear or aural thermometers have their advantages and disadvantages. The shine with the ease with which they can be used, as well as with their functionalities. They can be tricky to use sometimes, however, since there are additional factors that can compromise their readings such as ear wax, ear infections, or curved ear canals. Still, if you know what you’re doing and if you’ve found an ear thermometer of a high enough quality, it is sure to serve you faithfully for a very long time. These are exactly the qualifications which we looked for when we formed the list of the best ear thermometers:
Braun’s Thermoscan 7 IRT6520 utilizes several of the brand’s patented technologies – the Age Precision technology, as well as the ExacTemp technology. It also has an adjustable fever guidance, it can easily switch between Celsius and Fahrenheit, and it has 9 person memory profiles.
Braun’s other model on our list – the Thermoscan 5 IRT6020 – comes with a lot of the Thermoscan 7’s features, and at a slightly lower price too. It also utilizes the ExacTemp technology and comes with its own set of lens filters.
Hylogy MD-H30 is a great budget option, but it also shines with quality and functionality. It has a great ergonomic design, a powerful and precise processor, and it can work as more than just an ear thermometer, but also as a forehead, object or ambient thermometer.