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Home Ear Examination

A home ear examination is a visual inspection of the ear canal and eardrum camera.gif using an instrument called an otoscope camera.gif. An otoscope is a handheld instrument with a light, a magnifying lens, and a funnel-shaped viewing piece with a narrow, pointed end called a speculum.

A home ear examination can help detect many ear problems, such as ear infections, excessive earwax, or an object in the ear canal.

After receiving instructions and training from a doctor, home ear examinations can be helpful for parents of young children who frequently get ear infections and earaches. Sometimes a child may have an ear infection in which the only outward symptom may be fussiness, a fever, or tugging at the ear. A home ear examination may help reveal the cause of these symptoms. But it can be hard to learn to use an otoscope, and some otoscopes are of poor quality. An examination with a doctor is often necessary.

Why It Is Done

A home ear examination may be done to:

  • Look for signs of infection when a person has an earache or when a young child has vague symptoms.
  • Check for a foreign object in the ear, such as an insect or a bean.
  • Check for earwax buildup when a person complains of hearing loss or of fullness or pressure in the ear.

How To Prepare

No special preparation is needed before having this test. Always remember to clean the ear speculum in hot, soapy water before using it.

How It Is Done

If you are going to examine a young child, have the child lie down with his or her head turned to the side, or have the child sit on an adult's lap and rest his or her head on the adult's chest. Older children or adults can sit with their head tilted slightly toward the opposite shoulder. Sitting is the best position for identifying otitis media with effusion (fluid behind the eardrum).

Select the largest viewing piece that will fit easily into the ear canal, and attach it to the otoscope.

If the person is only having problems with one ear, examining the other ear first may make it easier to determine what is different about the affected ear.

When checking the ear of a child older than 12 months or an adult, hold the otoscope in one hand and use your free hand to pull the outer ear gently up and back. This straightens the ear canal and improves visualization. In babies younger than 12 months, gently pull the outer ear down and back. See a picture of the position of the otoscope camera.gif during an ear examination.

Now, slowly insert the pointed end of the viewing piece into the ear canal while looking into the otoscope. The sides of the ear canal can be quite sensitive, so try not to put pressure on the ear canal. It may help to steady your hand on the person's face so your hand moves along with their head in case they move quickly.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: September 10, 2012
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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