An ear exam can find problems in the ear canal, eardrum, and the middle ear. During an ear exam, a tool called an otoscope is used to look at the outer ear canal and eardrum. The otoscope has a light, a magnifying lens, and a funnel-shaped viewing piece with a narrow, pointed end called a speculum.
The doctor holds the otoscope in one hand and uses his or her free hand to pull the outer ear gently up and back. This straightens the ear canal and helps the doctor see inside the ear. In babies younger than 12 months, the doctor will gently pull the outer ear down and back.
Some young children have frequent ear infections and earaches. Parents of these children can be trained by their doctor to do home ear examinations.
If you are doing a home ear exam with an otoscope, be sure to look into the otoscope before you move it forward. Make sure you can see the path of the ear canal. You do not need to insert the viewing piece very far into the ear.
Angle the tip of the viewing piece slightly toward the person's nose to follow the normal path of the canal. While you look through the otoscope, move it gently at different angles so that you can see the ear canal walls and the eardrum. Stop at any sign of increased pain.
Last Revised: January 9, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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