What is an Otoscope? Get All the Answers

What is an otoscope

Medical devices have an important role in the evaluation of patients and diagnosis of medical conditions. In the case of the otologists and audiologists, one of the most important devices that any of this doctor should have in order to perform regular check-ups and detect illness is an otoscope or auriscope.

This medical device is a common investment for medical students who want to detect ear illness. This article will provide a detailed explanation of what is an otoscope and what it is used for.

What is an Otoscope?

What is an otoscope

It is a medical device that is commonly used by audiologists and otologists to examine the ear canal, the tympanic membrane, and the eardrum. The purpose of the otoscope is to provide illuminated magnification to visualize the middle and outer ear.

An otoscope allows the doctor or a nurse to evaluate important structures of the ear like the eardrum which according to the characteristics it presents could be helpful to determine if there are any diseases affecting the middle ear.

Otoscopes are commonly composed of three parts: the head, the handle, and the cone. The head contains the light bulb and low-power magnifying lens. The cone is the extended part of the otoscope that is inserted into the ear canal. The handle is the part that allows the doctor to hold the otoscope and contains the power source of the device.

Certain otoscopes are portable and others are wall-mounted. The portable models need batteries to work while the wall-mounted ones are attached to a base which provides the source of power.

Otoscope could also be useful to examine the nose and the upper throat. The modern otoscope was developed in the 19th century but now it has advanced dramatically, current otoscopes are lightweight, high-tech and now you can even capture videos and images in high definition and then project them with a video otoscope.

What is an Otoscope Used For?

Ear anatomy

It is used to examine structures of the middle and outer ear although it can also work to evaluate the upper throat and nose. The otoscope is the main device used in the otoscopy exam.

This is a diagnostic exam that evaluates the ear and diagnoses any abnormalities or conditions that could be affecting the external ear or the middle ear in which are located the structures responsible for balance and hearing.

See also: Do Nurses Use Stethoscopes?

The otoscope can also determine if there is any type of obstruction in the ear (earwax, cerumen) and proceed to remove it. An exam with an otoscope will allow the doctor to visualize these structures:

  • External Auditory Canal: Provides a clear image of the canal and whether it is stenotic, absent, edematous or it is filled with blood, wax or a foreign body.
  • Tympanic Membrane: If there is an obstruction the doctor won’t be able to visualize this structure, but if the doctor is able to see it is important to check if the membrane is intact if there is any debris or white keratin around the skin. If the doctor is able to visualize blood vessels in the tympanic this could be a warning sign of perforation. The membrane also needs to be transparent.
  • An otoscope is a helpful device to diagnose any of these conditions:
  • Otitis Media: Inflammation of the inner ear due to a bacterial infection.
  • Tympano sclerosis, perforation or any condition that affects the tympanic membrane or eardrum.

That’s what an otoscope is used for. If you are going into an otoscopy examination you might be thinking “Can an otoscope damage your ear?”. Let’s find out.

Can an Otoscope Damage your Ear?

Can an otoscope damage your ear

When a qualified doctor uses the device in the right size and with the right technique there is no risk of damaging the ear.

There is no pain associated with the usage of this device to examine the ear. The process can feel uncomfortable but it should never feel painful.

There are different speculum sizes so the doctor needs to use one that is adapted and appropriate for the patient’s canal. Children will need a narrower size of the speculum.

When the otoscope is not handled in the proper way any flinch by the patient could cause the device to be jammed into the ear canal and could cause pain.

The right technique is especially important when examining children because of any sudden movement they do could cause the inside of the skin to be pierced by the otoscope. It is also important to evaluate the healthy ear first to prevent the risk of infecting the good ear.

If the doctor doesn’t have the right technique there is a high risk of perforating or tearing the eardrum and may even cause long-term hearing disabilities.

What is a Pneumatic Otoscope?

What is a pneumatic otoscope

This is a tool that allows the patient to perform an exam to determine the mobility of the tympanic membrane in response to different pressures. It is the standard tool in the diagnosis of otitis media and was invented by Dr. Emil Siegle around the time of the American civil war. A normal tympanic membrane is supposed to have mobility.

When the tympanic membrane presents immobility it could be a sign of a perforation, middle ear infection, tympanosclerosis, etc.

This tool contains a pneumatic head that has a lens, a nipple for attachment of a rubber bulb and tubbing. Once the speculum is inserted into the external auditory’s canal of the patient, a tight air chamber is produced.

The doctor will observe the eardrum mobility in response to negative and positive pressure.

If there is the fluid present in the middle ear, the tympanic membrane mobility will be absent. A change of the pressure in the external auditory canal when using this otoscope could cause pain when there is an otitis media.

Conclusion: What is an Otoscope?

The otoscope is one of the most known medical devices which is part of the medical kit of every beginner medicine student and it is an indispensable tool to perform otoscopy which is an exam that diagnoses illness and conditions of the structures inside the ear.

It provides a clear image of the tympanic membrane and external auditory canal to detect infections, perforations, among other conditions. Using the proper technique of an otoscope assures a correct evaluation and diagnosis.

Now you know all about what is an otoscope and what is an otoscope used for.

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About Ida Koivisto, BSN, RN, PHN

Ida is both a registered nurse and public health nurse. Her passion is to provide as much valuable information about nursing to the world as possible. In her spare time from work and blogging, Ida loves to work out at the gym and spend time with relatives.