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 ear.
Crying. A small child who is upset or crying may have red eardrums. This redness may be confused with an ear infection.
The 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 heard.
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 fall.
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.
Other Works Consulted
Committee on Practice and Ambulatory Medicine, Bright Futures Periodicity Schedule Workgroup (2014). 2014 recommendations for pediatric preventive health care. Pediatrics, published online February 24, 2014. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-4096. Accessed March 7, 2014.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics Specialist Medical ReviewerCharles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology