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Home Ear Examination

How It Is Done continued...

Do not move the otoscope forward without looking into it. Make sure you can see the path through the ear canal. You do not need to insert the viewing piece very far into the ear—the light extends well beyond the viewing tip.

Angle the tip of the viewing piece slightly toward the person's nose to follow the normal angle of the canal. While looking through the otoscope, move it gently at different angles so that you can see the canal walls and eardrum. Stop at any sign of increased pain. If your view is blocked by earwax, see the topic Earwax for tips.

Ask your doctor to review this technique with you and to watch you do an examination. Then practice on some healthy, willing adults so you can learn what a normal ear canal and eardrum look like. Don't be discouraged if you can't see the eardrum at first—it takes some practice and experience.

How It Feels

Examining a healthy ear using an otoscope is usually painless but may cause some mild discomfort if the person being examined has an ear infection.

Risks

The pointed end of the otoscope can irritate the lining of the ear canal. Make sure that you insert the otoscope slowly and carefully. If you do scrape the lining of the ear canal, it rarely causes bleeding or infection, but you must be careful to avoid pain or injury.

An otoscope can push an object closer to the eardrum. If you suspect an object in the ear, do not move the otoscope forward once you see the object. Don't try to remove the object—seek medical help.

There is a slight risk of damaging the eardrum if the otoscope is inserted too far into the ear canal. Do not move the otoscope forward if it feels like something is blocking it.

Results

A home ear examination is a visual inspection of the ear canal and eardrum using an instrument called an otoscope.

Ear canal
Normal:
  • Ear canals vary in size, shape, and color.
  • The ear canal is skin-colored and contains small hairs and usually some yellowish brown or reddish brown earwax.
Abnormal:
  • Wiggling or pulling on the outer ear causes pain.
  • The ear canal is red, tender, swollen, or filled with pus.

 

Eardrum
Normal:
  • The eardrum is pearly white or light gray, and you can see through it.
  • You can see the tiny bones of the middle ear pushing on the eardrum.
  • You see a cone of light, known as the "light reflex," reflecting off the surface of the eardrum. This cone of light is at the 5 o'clock position in the right ear and at the 7 o'clock position in the left ear.
Abnormal:
  • The light reflex on the eardrum is dull or absent
  • The eardrum is red and bulging.
  • You can often see amber liquid or bubbles behind the eardrum.
  • You can see a hole in the eardrum (perforation).
  • You can see whitish scars on the surface of the eardrum.
  • If your child has had a tube placed in an ear, you may also see the tiny plastic tube, which is usually blue or green.
  • The eardrum is blocked by earwax or an object, such as a bean or a bead.
Note:

If you see an inflamed canal, pus, a dull or red eardrum, fluid behind the eardrum, a hole in the eardrum, or a foreign object in the ear, call your doctor.

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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