A new study found that nothing beats rectal thermometers when it comes to the most accurate readings of the body’s temperature. In spite of being less invasive and more comfortable, the forehead or armpit methods are just not as precise, measuring only body heat on the outside of the skin.
- More invasive thermometers – rectal or bladder – are more accurate than ear and mouth thermometers
- Review analyzed 75 studies including 8,600 patients
- Peripheral thermometers – ear, mouth, forehead, armpit – are off by 1.5 degrees
- Using invasive thermometers for in-hospital patients can help with diagnosis
- Peripheral thermometers are preferred for babies and toddlers suffering from minor infections
Should you throw out your old supply and stock your medicine cabinet only with rectal thermometers? Probably not, according to Dr. Daniel Niven, an intensive care physician at the Peter Lougheed Center in Calgary, Canada. Heading the review on the effectiveness of thermometers, Dr. Niven says ear and oral thermometer are both reasonably accurate, so you can still use those confidently.
Data collected from more than 8,600 patients – adults and children alike – has been analyzed by Niven and colleagues; the medical data came from 75 studies conducted around the world. The target of the review was to establish the most accurate type of thermometer by comparing the ones we have readily available.
For the study, the researchers looked at temperature measurements taken in the mouth, ear, armpit, and on the forehead – all of whom are part of the peripheral thermometers category. These measurements were compared against each other, and also against temperature readings from more invasive thermometers.
Central thermometers – rectal and bladder ones – are usually used for hospitalized patients who have been fitted with catheters. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the results of the review showed that peripheral thermometers have a margin of error of 1.5 degrees.
Using more invasive thermometers allows doctors to make diagnoses even in patients who don’t have obvious symptoms. This is vital, seeing that serious infections could go undetected if the temperature measures aren’t accurate enough. Hospital intensive care units rely the most on temperature readings, where treating significant infections could be overlooked.
Dr. Niven hopes the study’s finding will encourage more ICUs and hospitals to replace the less accurate armpit measurements in favor of rectal or bladder measures. As for children suffering from minor infections, such as runny nose, cough or sore throat – mouth or ear thermometers are preferred.
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