This website is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission.

How to use an otoscope

Last Updated: 29.11.21


It’s quite a common fact to suffer from an ear infection and have no symptoms to prove so. Since it’s important to determine whether you have a problem, it’s best to undergo a clinical ear examination that is a vital step in noticing and treating ear disorders.

When you start to feel a pain inside your ear, it’s best to go and see a doctor that is able to make a difference between an ear infection and a condition that originates from the adjacent structures, like teeth, tonsils, or temporomandibular joint. Because the tympanic membrane is the only window that provides full access to the middle ear, it’s the only chance to get information about a possible disease in that area.

Compared to other medical fields, where you need complicated surgery or tools to do a complete examination, the ear enables the doctor to check and diagnose all the disorders that have a certain connection with the interrelated ear, throat system, and nose. Using an excellent otoscope, the practitioner will find out what’s been bothering you and what causes that annoying pain in your ear. This medical instrument is the most reliable diagnostic tool used by doctors worldwide.

If you didn’t know, otoscopy is the primary method used by medical practitioners to provide an accurate diagnosis for a patient that complaints about aches in the entire ear, throat, and nose complex. The reason why the otoscope is so vital is that it offers different benefits such as illumination, magnification along with the needed air pressure. These three are responsible for a proper check of the tympanic membrane mobility. Therefore, it gives a clear view of the whole ear canal and, specifically, the tympanic membrane.

If you’re curious to learn how an otoscopic examination is conducted, we need to establish that this process is not painful for the patient, no matter the age.

The first step done by the doctor is to carefully inspect the postauricular skin and the pinna. The later must be gently palpated to determine whether there is tenderness or not.

The next step is to inspect the entrance of the ear canal because it is an area where debris is collected. If there is a large quantity of dirt,  it might affect the further steps of the examination.

You can do this process in the privacy of your own home if you purchase an otoscope. Just make sure you understand each step and if you can, consult your physician before attempting to check your ears.

Now, let’s move on to the actual operation. Depending on your kit, you’ll see a large speculum among the tools. Slowly, insert the speculum into the ear canal. As a useful tip, if you straighten the outer real canal, you’ll be able to get the speculum inside easier and without causing any discomfort. You have two ways to do this, according to the age of the person you’re trying to check the ear for a disease. If you’re using the otoscope on an adult, just retract the pinna upwards and then backward. Children need special treatment so make sure to retract it horizontally backward.

Another key aspect is to keep the otoscope in a proper position. It can be a tad difficult at first if you’re not a certified practitioner. Nevertheless, after a few examinations, you’ll easily be able to handle it naturally.

Plus, there are two ways to choose from so you have more than options in case one doesn’t suit your style. You can either hold the otoscope just like you would hold a hammer, gripping the top of the handle between your forefinger and thumb, as close as possible to the source of light. Furthermore, you can use the bulb of the pneumatic attachment located between the power handle and the palm of your hand. It’s advised to try and extend the middle finger a little outward so you can feel the cheek of the person you’re using the tool on. This way, if he or she has a sudden flinch, you’ll avoid jamming the otoscope into the patient’s ear canal.

Another good method to handle the otoscope os to held it just like a pencil, placed between your forefinger and thumb. Also, keep the pneumatic attachment in the same hand, using the palm. If the person turns or moves in a certain direction, you’ll both move at the same time. You remove the risk of injuries caused to the tympanic membrane.

If you need to examine a child’s ear, take extra precautions because they don’t sit still and you can easily hurt them, if you’re not careful enough. Even the slightest move can cause the skin to be pierced by the speculum.

While examining the ear canal, try to adjust your line of sight and the speculum because you need a complete view in all corners of the canal and membrane. After finishing the operation, remove the specula from the otoscope.

There’s another type of procedure called pneumatic otoscopy that is a useful technique used for determining the tympanic mobility as a response to the pressure changes. It’s great if you need to recognize several types of middle ear diseases. When the level of pressure is different, the tympanic membrane moves. This process is essential for establishing a diagnosis of otitis media with effusion.


Ioana Moldovan

Ioana’s professional experience in the optics field has helped her understand the value of passing her knowledge forward. Her curious personality helps her gather useful information for her readers and her goal is to make technical information fun and accessible to everyone.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments Protection Status