Choosing a thermometer

When you want an accurate measurement, which temperature measurement technique should you turn to and which thermometer should you buy? Let’s demystify the whole thing.

We often rely on our parental instincts to know if our child has a fever. We put our hand on his forehead, examine his eyes or even smell his breath.

Although there are many different types of thermometers, they all have the same function : tell us if our child’s fever has gone up or down. The accurate number of degrees is important, but what really matters when we take our sick child’s temperature repetitively is whether or not the fever is going down. It is therefore important to always take the temperature with the same device. There can be small variations from one thermometer to another, which could be misleading.

The traditional mercury thermometer has been replaced by the more user friendly digital thermometer. It’s often possible to get the temperature in less than fifteen seconds… very useful when you have a fidgety baby! With a mercury thermometer, there’s also a risk of being exposed to toxic substances if it breaks. Mercury is dangerous for the environment and although mercury is a liquid at room temperature, it easily evaporates into a gas that has no smell. That gas, or vapor, is toxic if it is inhaled. The Canadian Paediatric Society no longer recommends the use of mercury thermometers.

Please read the following document on how to safely dispose of a mercury thermometer.

Rectal thermometer

For : this thermometer is especially suitable for children aged 0-5 years. With older children, the experience can be unpleasant and embarrassing.

Beware! The Canadian Paediatric Society reminds us that “rectal temperatures are slow to change in relation to changing core temperature, and they have been shown to stay elevated well after the patient’s core temperature has begun to fall, and vice versa. Rectal readings are affected by the depth of a measurement, conditions affecting local blood flow and the presence of stool. Rectal perforation has been described, and without proper sterilization techniques, rectal thermometry has the capacity to spread contaminants that are commonly found in stool."

How to take a rectal temperature:

  • Put the child on his stomach. If he is really small, you can place him on your knees.
  • Apply petroleum jelly (vaseline) on the tip of the thermometer and on the rectum.
  • Gently insert the thermometer in the rectum (about 1 inch). For children younger than 6 months, don’t go deeper than half an inch. Make sure the child moves as little as possible.
  • When the thermometer beeps, remove the device gently.

Normal temperature range with this method
From 36.6 °C to 38.0 °C ( 97.9 °F to 100.4 °F)
Source : Canadian Paediatric Society

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