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Home Ear Examination

What Affects the Test

Reasons why the results of the test may not be helpful include:

  • Lying down while the ear is being examined. This can make it hard to detect the presence of a middle ear infection (otitis media) or fluid behind the eardrum (otitis media with effusion).
  • Crying. A small child who is upset or crying may have red eardrums. It is easy to confuse this redness with an ear infection.

What To Think About

  • Some home otoscopes use sound waves that bounce off the eardrum to detect otitis media with effusion (fluid in the middle ear).
  • Earwax (cerumen) is a normal protective secretion of the ear canal. Earwax normally drains by itself, and cleaning the outside of the ear is all that is necessary. Never clean your ear canals with cotton swabs, hairpins, paper clips, or your fingernail, which may damage the canal or eardrum and can push the wax farther into the canal. For information on how to remove earwax, see the topic Earwax.

Regardless of what you see with a otoscope, call your doctor if you or your child has:

  • Severe ear pain, especially if your child has a fever.
  • Sudden hearing loss.
  • Dizziness.
  • An inability to move the muscles on one side of the face (facial nerve paralysis).
  • Persistent ringing in one or both ears.
  • Drainage from one or both ears.

Other Works Consulted

  • American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Recommendations for preventive pediatric health care. In Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., p. 591. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics. Also available online:

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerCharles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology
Last RevisedSeptember 10, 2012

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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