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 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
- The eardrum moves slightly when a puff of air is
blown into the ear.
- Touching, wiggling, or pulling on your outer ear
- 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.
What Affects the Test
Reasons you may not be able to
have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
- Earwax, dirt, or an object such as a bean or a
bead hiding or blocking the eardrum (tympanic membrane) in the ear canal. Your
doctor may need to clean the ear canal before examining the
- Crying. A small child who is upset or crying may have red
eardrums. This redness may be confused with an ear infection.
inability of some children to sit still during the examination.
What To Think About
- Other types of tests may be used to examine the
ear and evaluate hearing. These tests include:
- Acoustic immittance testing (tympanometry
and acoustic reflex testing). This 2-minute to 3-minute test measures how well
the middle ear relays sound. The soft tip of a small instrument is inserted
into the ear canal and adjusted to achieve a tight seal. Sound and air pressure
are then directed toward the eardrum. The test is not painful, but slight
changes in pressure may be felt or the tone may be
- Vestibular tests (falling and past-pointing tests). These
tests can detect problems with areas of the inner ear that help control balance
and coordination. During these tests, you will try to maintain your balance and
coordination while moving your arms and legs in certain ways, standing on one
foot, standing heel-to-toe, and performing other maneuvers with your eyes open
and closed. Your health professional will make sure that you do not
- If your child has repeat ear infections, your
doctor may suggest that you buy a simple otoscope that is
available for home use. To learn more, see the topic
Home Ear Examination.