How to Use Ear Thermometers Correctly


An ear thermometer, also called tympanic thermometer, is a handheld device used to take a person’s temperature. It’s the easiest to use for children. It’s capable of reading temperatures in a few seconds and can be used even when the baby is asleep.

The heat released in the inner ear, just like tongue, is a perfect representation of the body’s temperature. This heat is then measured by the infrared radiation emitted from the thermometer. For a thermometer to be accurate, you need to know how to use it correctly. Otherwise, you’ll just receive false readings.

Removing Wax from Ears

If there is wax in the ear, the radiation of the sensor would be blocked. It is necessary to make sure the ear canal is clean and free from wax, dirt, fluid or other material.

You need to check the ear and clean it. If you aren’t sure how to do that, avoid doing it by yourself. It can cause pain and also may affect your hearing.

Also, don’t take a person’s temperature when he’s working out or doing any intense activity. It can increase the body temperature which can result in an incorrect reading.

Clean the Thermometer

The infrared radiation can also be blocked if there is dirt on the sensor. In order to make sure the reading is accurate, take the thermometer out of its holder and clean it. The tip of the thermometer should be cleaned by a cotton ball wetted with some alcohol. Then, a new cover needs to be put at the tip of the thermometer.

Position the Ear Correctly

The ear position is as important as the first two steps in taking the accurate readings. Here’s the proper way to do that:

  • If it’s an infant, lay him/her down or sit him/her on your lap. Make yourself comfortable. Place the thermometer in such a way that its tip is straight to his/her eardrum. The tip should be as close as possible towards the inner ear.
  • If it’s an older person, pull the upper earlobe and gently pull it back so the ear canal is leveled. You’ll observe the inner ear is stretched and opened. Make adjustments for ear canals which are a little bent so the sensor is aimed at the eardrum.
  • If it’s a kid, hold his/her head and make sure it doesn’t move. Pull the ear straight back and follow the same.

In general, it’s necessary that the eardrum and thermometer are on the same line. If it’s aligned with the ear canal wall, the reading may show an inaccurate reading.

Place the Tympanic Thermometer

Turn the thermometer on to activate its infrared. Insert its covered tip into the opening of the ear. You should be careful in doing this step. Don’t try to push it and make sure it comfortably fits in the ear. The eardrum shouldn’t be touching the tip of the thermometer. Hold it like this for a second or two. It will detect the temperature.

A correct reading is obtained when the tip points at the eardrum and there is no wax, dirt, or any kind of material between them.

Taking the Thermometer Reading

Once the tip is in the ear, you’ll hear a beep after a second or two. It means the temperature has been measured. Carefully remove the tip from the ear and look at the temperature shown on the thermometer.

If it shows a numeric reading, then you might have obtained the patient’s body temperature. If you see “ERR” then you have done something wrong and you need to repeat the process. Also, try to take two to three readings from both ears to come to an accurate result.

Instances Not to Use Ear Thermometer

In case there’s an infection in the ear or there was a recent ear surgery, it’s best to avoid using an ear thermometer. You can try using a forehead thermometer.


Ear thermometers are widely used because the eardrum is a very reliable source in getting a person’s body temperature. Doctors recommend it and you’ll find it in the clinic most often. It’s digital because measuring the eardrum temperature directly is very difficult and risky.

Further Reading on Best Ear Thermometers