What is an Otoscope?

Those that question what an otoscope is, and what it is used for in the health care industry, will find the details below of interest.  As with anything involving your health, or the health of a loved one, it is important that you consult with a physician regarding any questions or concerns that you may have.

Otoscope Definition

An otoscope is simply a medical instrument used to look inside the ear.  The head of an otoscope contains both a small light and magnifying glass.  Otoscopes are designed to allow medical professionals and caregivers the opportunity to clearly examine the physical appearance of the outer and middle of the ear.

Specula Definition

Used in conjunction with an otoscope is an item called specula.  The specula are a disposable plastic attachment, which goes over the otoscope head, and is the part that actually enters the ear canal.  For safety reasons, and to prevent patient cross-contamination, the specula should be discarded after each use.

General Otoscope Examination Procedure

With the specula on the otoscope, the examiner must first straighten the ear canal by gently lifting up on the pinna (the visible part of the outer ear).  At this time the examiner must gently insert the otoscope, with specula attached, into the ear canal.  For best practices, it is advised that the examiner stabilize their otoscope usage hand with an index finger gently positioned on the patient’s head.

What an Otoscope Can Help to Diagnose

An examination with an otoscope can identify an excessive amount of cerumen (earwax), otitis media (middle ear infection) and otitis externa (swimmers ear).  More advanced pneumatic otoscopes, which utilize special bulbs and a gentle burst of air, may also perform a mobility test of the tympanic membrane (ear drum).

How Otoscopes are Powered

Most medical offices employ the use of both wall mounted and portable otoscopes.  Wall mounted otoscopes are typically powered by standard 110V electricity.  Portable units may be powered with either rechargeable or disposable batteries.

Extending the Use of Otoscopes

Many otoscopes are sold as part of a larger medical instrument kit.  Such kits may include an ophthalmoscope for examining the eyes, a nasal specula attachment for examination of the nose, a bent arm illuminator for endoscopy examinations and other attachments.

Who Uses an Otoscope

Medical professionals use otoscopes quite often in patient examinations.  However, many parents also use an otoscope to help determine if their children have an ear infection.  Students, in the health care industry, also use otoscopes as part of their curriculum in proper medical instrument and equipment usage practices.


Although this page covers what an otoscope is used for, it is important to note that this information should not be used to replace a thorough examination from a physician.  If you suspect a problem with your health, or the health of a loved one, please seek an immediate medical examination with a licensed medical doctor.