Temporal thermometers

Q Do temporal thermometers really work?


A These thermometers use an infrared scanner to measure the temperature in the temporal artery in the forehead. 

This artery carries blood from the heart to the head and can give a temperature reading that’s as accurate as a rectal temperature, which is still thought to be the best method of checking the core temperature of a child younger than 3 years old. 

An oral temperature (under the tongue) is thought to be as accurate as a rectal temperature (but less invasive) for children older than 4. 

Typical use of a temporal thermometer involves gently sweeping the device’s sensor across the forehead. 

Recent studies give some support that temporal thermometers have similar accuracy as rectal/oral thermometers and better accuracy than tympanic (in the ear) or axillary (under the armpit) thermometers. 

Temporal thermometer results are more easily skewed if the forehead is sweaty or overly warm due to the recent wearing of a hat. Sweat can also cause the temporal thermometer to give a falsely lower temperature because sweat can cool the forehead as it evaporates. 

With my personal use, I’ve found that temporal thermometers are good for tracking a temperature as it goes up or down. But when I’m trying to diagnose a fever, I usually verify the core body temperature with another method. 

If you’re hoping to use the temporal thermometer as your main thermometer, you might want to check its accuracy against oral/rectal thermometers. 

I usually test our temporal thermometer on myself when I’m using it for our son to see if it’s still working properly.


Kimara Gustafson works as a pediatrician at the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. Write her at kgustafson@mnparent.com.