If you’re like many, many mums you’ll have a cupboard full of different thermometers and kids who always seem to have a temperature …

… trouble is more often than not, the reason for the temperature is not apparent so we don’t know what to do when.

The thermometer is one of the most frequently used items contained in the medicine cupboard of a home in which children live. Most parents will only begin the search for the thermometer when they feel their little one burning up, having missed the more subtle signs that were evident earlier in the day, such as refusing to eat and sleeping longer than usual. A thermometer is designed to measure temperature and when used on a person it measures the internal temperature of the body.

Normal body temperature ranges from approximately 36.5°C to 37.5°C and fever is a temperature above 38.0°C. Fever is not an illness, it is instead the body’s natural defence against an infection. Fever is the elevation of the temperature set point in the brain in response to an infection in the body. In such cases, the person feels cold and goes about trying to heat their body by doing such things as shivering and constricting blood vessels close to the skin surface. By elevating the body’s temperature the infection, which is most commonly caused by a virus, is destroyed as it cannot function in a hot environment.

When it comes to buying a thermometer there is not a clear standout in regard to ease of use, accuracy and price.

The thermometers most commonly used in the community include:

1)     Digital Thermometer: Most commonly inserted into the mouth or under the armpit. Although it is known to be the least expensive and one of the most accurate (when used in the mouth) it does take longer to obtain a temperature reading, making it difficult to use with a squirmy toddler. Retails for approximately $15.

2)     Infrared Tympanic (ear) Thermometer: Easily inserted into the ear canal to obtain a temperature within seconds using infrared light. Difficult to use with young babies as the probe is usually too large to sit comfortably in the ear canal which therefore reduces its accuracy. Retails for approximately $90.

3)     Forehead Strip Thermometer: A disposable strip of plastic with embedded liquid crystals is placed against the child’s forehead. The crystals react with the skin temperature and change colour accordingly. The temperature is obtained by matching the colour against a number line. Although they are easy to use they are the least accurate and are therefore not recommended for use by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. Retails for approximately $5 for a pack of 4 strips.

4)     Forehead (Temporal Artery) Thermometer: The thermometer is scanned over the temple of the child and obtains a temperature within seconds using infrared light. It has been proven to be one of the most accurate but it is also the most expensive. Retails for approximately $130.

Working as a First Aid Educator and Ambulance Paramedic, I frequently encounter parents who are unsure about how to best manage their child’s fever and are therefore very anxious when they become unwell with a fever.

At home, fever management is based on making the child comfortable and this may include reducing clothing to a nappy and possibly also a singlet, placing a cold face washer across their forehead or back of their neck and giving them frequent sips of clear fluids. No longer is it recommended to place children who have a fever in cold baths, provide them tepid sponging or spray them down with cold water. The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne recommends only giving a fever relieving medication, such as Paracetamol or Ibuprofen to children with a fever above 38.5°C who are miserable or in pain.

When caring for a child with a fever at home, parents should be watching out for some key signs and symptoms to indicate the need to see a doctor.

A baby under 3 months old who has a fever should always be seen by a doctor because they can get sick very quickly. Otherwise, if a child has a fever above 40°C or has a sustained fever then it is recommended that they also see a Doctor. It is common to lose body fluid whilst having a fever which increases if there is any associated vomiting and/or diarrhoea. If the baby or child has poor fluid intake and output, for example less than 4 wet nappies in 24 hours, then medical attention should always be sought. Other signs and symptoms that could indicate serious illness include; difficulty breathing, pain, complaints of a stiff neck or light hurting their eyes and/or rash.

It is important to remember that fever is common in children. However, I strongly believe that a parent knows their child best and therefore recommend to parents that if they have any serious concerns about their child’s health that they get them reviewed by a doctor sooner rather than later.

This article was written by Amanda Thornton.  As well as being a mum of two gorgeous children, Amanda is the driving force behind Child Revive First Aid .  Child Revive First Aid came about as a direct result of Amanda’s nine years as a Paramedic, during which time she witnessed firsthand the devastation families experienced when they were unprepared in managing their sick child. As a result, Amanda is passionate about assisting parents and carers achieve an appropriate level of First Aid knowledge and skill in order to gain the confidence to act in an emergency that involves a child.


  • I always freaked out regarding kids and temperatures. I could never remember what was bad and what wasn’t worth worrying about

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  • Great article. It’s so hard to remember what is the correct temperature for adults and children!

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  • I can never remember normal temperature when someone is sick. So frustrating

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  • Every time I have to take someone’s temperature I have to google it, I can never remember what is a fever and what isn’t.

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  • Good to know the differences in thermometers!

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  • Very informative

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  • A Dr. told me there is 2 initial ways to test if a child may have a high temperature. One is to feel their forehead and the other is to put you hand on their back just below their neck. Sometimes they also feel very clammy. Normal temperatures vary for adults too.
    Myself personally, I can have a slightly raised temperature and within 1/2 hour I feel as though I am frying, perspiring profusely and according to a friend I was visiting one day I go ghostly white. I had been to the Dr. and got a prescription and was going shopping with my friend. The shopping trip didn’t happen for me. I was brought home and told to rest. My medication was brought to me later.

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  • I like the digital ones, they’re so easy to use and to read. I still get confused about what a high temp and a normal temp is tho

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  • That was a really interesting article! Thanks for sharing!

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  • Interesting and helpful article. thanks.
    I used this saying : When in doubt get checked out.

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  • Thermometers have come a long way. We purchased the $100+ version to check temperature in the ear, when my son was very young. It always gave us peace of mind to keep on top of his temperature when he was sick, and we still continue to you it many years later.

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  • Thanks for the great advice.

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  • Thank you for the useful info.

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  • Thanks Amanda. A First Aid Officer did tell me and some other Mum’s that a fever is not necessarily a bad thing and that as you say, a temperature of over 40 is when they should see a doctor also.

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  • Can recommend an ear thermometer so much easier than sticking something in their mouth.

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