Ear Examination: Procedure, Risks and Test Results

An ear examination means a complete ear check up. It is made to detect ear issues, such as hearing loss, ear pain, An examination of the ear may find problems in the eardrum, ear canal, and middle ear. (1)

Your physician may conduct an ear exam or otoscopy if you have:

  • ear pain
  • earache
  • ear infection
  • hearing loss
  • Lumps in ear
  • any other symptoms associated with the ear
  • ear discharge

Your physician may examine your ear to determine if you have an ear infection or to find out if the treatments for a hearing problem are working. Ear infections occur frequently, particularly in children.

Why is an ear examination performed?

Your physician may also carry out an ear examination if you have had or are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • head injury
  • chronic ear infections
  • eardrum punctured
  • is part of a regular physical examination

An ear examination may be slightly uncomfortable or painful when the ear is infected. Your physician will stop the examination and remove the otoscope in case the pain gets worse. (2)

How is an ear examination performed?

Your physician can reduce the lights in the examination room so that it is easier to see your hearing canal and eardrum with an otoscope. An otoscope is a flashlight with a removable plastic cone-shaped tip which allows the physician to look inside your ear.

Your physician will carefully pull in the following directions to straighten out your ear canal:

  • up
  • forward
  • down
  • back

Next, they will place the tip of the otoscope in your ear and make a light glow in your ear canal and up to your eardrum. They will rotate the otoscope in various directions to view the interior of the ear and eardrum.

Your doctor can use an air otoscope, which has a plastic bulb at the end, to blow a little puff of air against your eardrum. Normally, this air will trigger the movement of your ear drum. Your physician will not see much or no movement if you have an infection and an accumulation of fluid behind your eardrum.

Young children will have to lie on their backs with their heads turned sideways so that the physician can examine one ear at a time. Older children and adults may sit, tilting their heads sideways to allow the physician to examine each ear.

You can buy an otoscope to check your child’s ears at home if you think that he could have an ear infection. Contact your family physician immediately if you see any of the following signs in your child’s ears:

  • fluid
  • pus
  • redness
  • swelling

What are the risks associated with an ear examination?

An examination of the ear carries very few risks. If your physician does not change the end of the otoscope or clean it correctly after checking your ear, they may transmit the infection from one ear to another.

What do the test results mean?

Your ear canal is usually skin coloured and your eardrum is light grey or pearl white. Light would have to reflect on a healthy eardrum. You can also have a small amount of yellow or brown wax, which is not harmful. If your ear canal and eardrum seem healthy, you probably don’t have any ear infections.

If your physician recognizes one of the following in your ear canal or Behind your eardrum, there’s probably an ear infection:

  • pus
  • redness
  • swelling
  • amber liquid

If the light is not reflected on your eardrum, this is another indication that fluid may have accumulated behind the eardrum as a result of an infection.

What is the ear infections outlook?

Ear infections are generally easy to diagnose depending on the symptoms and observations of the physician when looking at the eardrum.

If you are not responding to antibiotics prescribed by your doctor and your symptoms are not improving, there are other diagnostic tests your physician can perform to determine the cause of your discomfort. Other tests your physician may carry out if this happens include: (3)

  • Your physician may use tympanometry to specifically examine a middle ear infection, which is located behind the eardrum.
  • During a tympanocentese, your doctor inserts a tube into the ear and punctures the eardrum to remove the fluid. Physician rarely take such a test.
  • Your physician may use acoustic reflectometry to measure the amount of noise your ear drum reflects. The more the sound of your eardrum is reflected backwards, the greater the pressure of the liquid in your eardrum.

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