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An ear examination is a thorough evaluation
of the ears that is done to screen for ear problems, such as
hearing loss, ear pain, discharge, lumps, or objects in the ear. An ear
examination can detect problems in the ear canal, eardrum, and the middle ear,
earwax, or an object like a bean or a bead.
During an ear examination, an instrument called an
otoscope is used to look at the outer ear canal and
eardrum. 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 pneumatic otoscope has a rubber bulb that your doctor can
squeeze to give a puff of air into the ear canal. This allows the doctor to see how the eardrum moves.
An ear examination may be done:
It is important to sit very still
during an ear examination. A young child should be lying down with his or her
head turned to the side or sitting on the lap of an adult with the child's head
resting securely on the adult's chest. Older children and adults can sit with
the head tilted slightly toward the opposite shoulder.
Your doctor may need to remove earwax in order to see the eardrum.
An ear examination can be done in a
doctor's office, a school, or the workplace.
ear examination, the doctor uses a special instrument called an
otoscope to look into the ear canal and see the eardrum.
doctor will gently pull your ear back and slightly up to
straighten the ear canal. If a baby under 12 months is being examined, the ear
will be pulled downward and out to straighten the ear canal. The doctor will then insert the pointed end (speculum) of the otoscope into
your ear and gently move the speculum through the middle of your ear canal to
avoid irritating the canal lining. The doctor will look at each
eardrum (tympanic membrane).
Using a pneumatic otoscope lets your
doctor see what the eardrum looks like and how well it moves when
the pressure inside the ear canal is changed. And it helps the doctor
determine if there is a problem with the
eustachian tube or fluid behind the eardrum (otitis media with effusion). A normal eardrum will
flex inward and outward in response to the changes in pressure.
The physical examination of the ear using
an otoscope is usually painless. If you have an ear infection, inserting the
otoscope into the ear canal may cause some pain or mild discomfort.
The pointed end of the otoscope can irritate the
lining of the ear canal, but this can usually be avoided by inserting the
otoscope slowly and carefully. If the otoscope does scrape the lining of the
ear canal, this rarely causes bleeding or infection.
An ear examination is a thorough
evaluation of the
ears that is done to screen for ear problems, such as
ear pain, discharge, lumps, or objects in the ear.
Reasons you may not be able to
have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
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: http://brightfutures.aap.org/pdfs/Guidelines_PDF/20-Appendices_PeriodicitySchedule.pdf.
September 10, 2012
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & Charles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology
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