Otoscopes Provide Versatile Tool for Physicians

A mainstay of hospitals and doctors’ offices around the world, medical professionals primarily use otoscopes for diagnosing ear problems, but this time-tested medical device has a variety of other uses. A good-quality otoscope is one of the fundamental building blocks of any doctor’s equipment.

Versatile Tool for Physicians

The earliest version of the otoscope was developed more than 600 years ago. French physician Guy de Chauliac described and illustrated a very crude version of the device. De Chauliac is best remembered for authoring Chirurgia magna, a treatise on surgery he completed in 1363. The seven-volume work described surgical and medical techniques of that time, including passages concerning anatomy, cauterization, wounds, fractures, drugs and anesthetics, etc.

A later version of the device was invented by Ignaz Gruber in Italy in 1838, but Gruber’s invention was not publicized. In 1864, a German inventor developed a pneumatic otoscope that allowed users to administer air pressure via the device.

The otoscopes that most of us are familiar with are either wall-mounted medical devices that are connected by a power cord to a base, and portable, battery powered otoscopes. The typical otoscope consists of a long handle designed to provide easy gripping. At one end of the device, there’s a bright light and a magnifying glass. A disposable speculum attaches to the otoscope and allows the physician to insert the otoscope into the patient’s ear, or, in some cases, other parts of the body, to perform a visual inspection. Some otoscopes may have a space to allow doctors to insert tools into the device that may be used to treat a medical issue.

The newest otoscopes connect to smart phones and allow medical personnel to conveniently capture pictures and video.

The Ear Exam

The most common use of the otoscope is the ear exam. Otoscopic ear exams are used to detect problems in the ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear. In a typical exam, a doctor will hold the otoscope in one hand and use the other hand to stretch the outer ear up and back. This will straighten the patient’s ear canal and allow the physician a clear look inside the ear. For infant patients, the physician will gently stretch the outer ear down and back.

Ear Exam

Otoscopes are often used by parents of young children to do home examinations for ear infections and earaches. Parents can be easily taught how to perform these examinations.

Pneumatic otoscopes are otoscopes that include a rubber bulb and tubing so the physician can pump air into the patient’s ear canal. A special head allows the device to form an airtight seal when the speculum is inserted into the patient’s external auditory canal.

Doctors pump air into the ear and observe the degree of eardrum mobility. This helps them determine whether the patient is suffering from inflammatory diseases of the inner ear. The two primary types of inner ear diseases are acute otitis media and otitis media with effusion.

Alternative Uses of Otoscopes

Alternative Uses of Otoscopes

While the otoscope is most frequently associated with ear examination, doctors have discovered a variety of uses for this convenient medical device over the generations it has been in use. Consider these alternative uses for otoscopes:

Observation – While the ear is the body part most commonly associated with otoscope use, the device is often used to inspect other orifices.

Otoscopes are often helpful in nasal cavity examinations. Physicians should fit the otoscope with the largest ear speculum available, tilt the patient’s head backward, and insert the device into the vestibule to perform the examination.

Doctors using an otoscope to perform a nasal examination can identify the following issues:
  • Fresh blood or crusting found in the anteroinferior nasal mucosa.
  • Septal deviation or perforation.
  • Swelling or erythema that may be indicative of allergies or inflammation.
  • Exudate
  • Polyps

An otoscope is useful in detection and treatment of urethral lesions. The speculum of an otoscope can safely be inserted about two centimeters into the urethra. A benefit of this method is that it can be cheaper and less discomforting than flexible urethroscopy.

Doctors also frequently use otoscopes in detecting and extracting foreign objects from body orifices. For example, if a child got a small toy stuck in his or her ear, an otoscope would be helpful in finding and removing this object.

Eye exams– Doctors often use otoscopes when examining the eye. The classic “cover/uncover test” used to detect strabismus is performed by using an otoscope as a light source. Doctors also use otoscopes in detecting cataracts, and in examining pupil reflexes and eye movements.

Mouth and throat exams – Otoscopes come in handy, as they provide a convenient light source for inspecting the mouth and throat. With the use of an otoscope, doctors can examine: the condition of a patient’s tongue, the back of the tongue and tonsils, the uvula and soft palate, etc. The otoscope can even be a helpful tool to put pediatric patients at ease. Doctors often let their child patients play with their otoscopes to help build rapport with these patients.

Transillumination – Otoscopes can help in tasks requiring transillumination. For example, performing venipuncture in infants can be difficult because of the small size of infants’ veins and because these veins are located deep in the skin. Medical professionals can use light from an otoscope to illuminate the skin tissue of young infants’ arms to help them find where veins are located, making it easier for successful venipuncture.

For maxillary sinus transillumination, doctors can avoid an optical system endoscopy by using a common otoscope outfitted with a trocar. The trocar is fitted to the lumen of the device, and the tip is introduced to the maxillary sinus via the canine fossa. Once the trocar is removed, doctors are able to easily perform an endoscopy of the maxillary sinus.

Versatile Tool for Physicians

In instances where cranial transillumination may be necessary to help doctors diagnose hydrocephalus and various cerebral cysts in infants, otoscopes play a helpful role. Otoscope light can also be helpful in testicular examinations of pre-adolescents.

Dermatology – Dermatologists frequently use otoscopes to observe small areas of the skin and to aid in some procedures. An otoscope is often helpful for close observation of the borders and surface of lesions, and to observe microvascular telangiectasia in patients’ nail beds.

Dermatologists also can use otoscope speculums to help control the spray of liquid nitrogen over skin lesions, allowing doctors to pinpoint their treatment to a specific affected area.Otoscopes can also be helpful in aiding doctors in observing and removing mites.

Finding the Right Otoscope

Traditional otoscopes remain popular among the medical community, but new otoscopes that attach to smartphones are becoming increasingly popular. These devices make taking quality pictures and video, and enlarging and reviewing them, easy for doctors, thus improving patient outcomes.


There are many otoscope products on the market, and price points can vary greatly. Physicians and other medical professionals would do well to purchase sturdy, dependable otoscopes from reputable medical equipment dealers.

Medical Device Depot has a long history of supplying otoscopes and other medical devices to doctors’ offices and hospitals. The company employs knowledgeable sales staff who can provide detailed descriptions of otoscopes and other supplies carried by the company, allowing doctors to get all the facts about the devices they’re buying.

Medical Device Depot also strives to carry only the best quality devices made by respected medical equipment manufacturers. Physicians and other medical professionals seeking dependable otoscopes should visit Medical Device Depot’s website today to learn more.