Infrared and stick fever thermometers prove accurate in Consumer Reports tests

January 9, 2012

With an eye to cold and flu season, Consumer Reports assessed 10 thermometers that are probably speedier than those you used when growing up. It tested two types on four adults without fevers, comparing each device’s readout against the temperature measured by a medical thermometer. The results show that you can save a bundle if you skip a few features.

How the tests were done

Sensory panelists — a different group from the four whose temperatures were taken — assessed the thermometers’ ease of use and comfort; 19 children told testers about comfort, too. Engineers also dropped the thermometers to see whether any broke. (None did.)

Digital stick thermometers were used orally; most can also be used to take underarm or rectal temperature. This type is the cheapest and most widely sold, but a readout takes 10 seconds to more than 80 seconds.

The tests also included four infrared thermometers, including ear, forehead and non-contact models. They can be more difficult to position, but their readout takes just one to three seconds.

Temperatures taken by forehead or mouth are often accurate, Consumer Reports’ medical experts say. Ear readings are generally accurate, but placing the thermometer can be tricky, and wax can interfere. Rectal temperature is the gold standard, because it is the closest to the body’s core temperature. (Note: Prices may vary based on where and when an item is purchased.)

The findings

The most accurate thermometers were within 0.5 degrees of the medical thermometer, and all but one were at least good at repeating a retaken temperature. The exception: the lowest-rated Vicks ComfortFlex V966F-24 ($15). Results varied widely among ComfortFlex thermometers, and some came with dead batteries.

The top-rated digital stick thermometer, the CVS Flexible Tip Digital ($15), has a flexible tip, which most users preferred to the rigid type, and its readout took just eight seconds. The least expensive model, Wal-Mart’s Reli-
On Rigid 60 Second ($3), a CR Best Buy, was accurate and best at repeating the correct temp, though it has a small display and a longer readout time. Adults said it was comfortable despite a rigid tip; kids preferred flexible tips.

The top infrared models, Vicks V977 (forehead) ($37), another CR Best Buy, and Exergen Temporal Scanner TAT-2000C (forehead) ($50), were accurate and comfortable. Vicks had more features, such as a large backlit display and colors that indicate a normal temperature, mild fever and high fever. (That feature wasn’t tested.)

Bottom line: Infrared thermometers are fast but might not be worth their cost.

Copyright 2011. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

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