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.
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
A home ear examination is a visual
inspection of the
ear canal and eardrum using an instrument called an
- Ear canals vary in size, shape, and
- The ear canal is skin-colored and contains small hairs and
usually some yellowish brown or reddish brown
- Wiggling or pulling on the outer ear
- The ear canal is red, tender, swollen, or filled with
- 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.
- The light reflex on the eardrum is dull
- 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
- The eardrum is blocked by earwax or an object, such as a
bean or a bead.
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.