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Ear Examination

How It Is Done continued...

Your doctor will gently pull your ear back and slightly up to straighten the ear canal. If a baby under 12 months is being examined, the ear will be pulled downward and out to straighten the ear canal. The doctor will then insert the pointed end (speculum) of the otoscope into your ear and gently move the speculum through the middle of your ear canal to avoid irritating the canal lining. The doctor will look at each eardrum (tympanic membrane).

Using a pneumatic otoscope lets your doctor see what the eardrum looks like and how well it moves when the pressure inside the ear canal is changed. And it helps the doctor determine if there is a problem with the eustachian tube or fluid behind the eardrum (otitis media with effusion). A normal eardrum will flex inward and outward in response to the changes in pressure.

How It Feels

The physical examination of the ear using an otoscope is usually painless. If you have an ear infection, inserting the otoscope into the ear canal may cause some pain or mild discomfort.


The pointed end of the otoscope can irritate the lining of the ear canal, but this can usually be avoided by inserting the otoscope slowly and carefully. If the otoscope does scrape the lining of the ear canal, this rarely causes bleeding or infection.


An ear examination is a thorough evaluation of the ears camera.gif that is done to screen for ear problems, such as ear pain, discharge, lumps, or objects in the ear.

Results of an ear examination
  • Ear canals vary in size, shape, and color.
  • The ear canal is skin-colored and lined with small hairs and usually some yellowish brown earwax.
  • The eardrum is normally pearly white or light gray, and you can see through it.
  • Also, one of the tiny bones in the middle ear can be seen.
  • The eardrum moves slightly when a puff of air is blown into the ear.
  • Touching, wiggling, or pulling on your outer ear causes pain.
  • The ear canal is red, tender, swollen, or filled with yellowish green pus.
  • The eardrum is red and bulging or looks dull and slightly pulled inward (retracted).
  • Yellow, gray, or amber liquid or bubbles are seen behind the eardrum.
  • There is a hole in the eardrum (perforation) or whitish scars on the surface of the drum.
  • The eardrum does not move as it should when a puff of air is blown into the ear.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 14, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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