Which otoscope is best?
Whether you’re a medical professional or a concerned parent, an otoscope is the best way to accurately diagnose painful ear infections. These simple yet powerful devices use a magnifying lens and a light source to see deep into the ear, nose or throat, giving the user the ability to detect obstructions, inflammation or a potentially hazardous buildup of earwax.
For a professional otoscope that’s easy enough to use at home, check out the Welch Allyn Enhanced Diagnostic Set.
What to know before you buy an otoscope
Who should purchase an otoscope
An at-home examination should never replace a doctor’s visit. However, if your child is prone to frequent ear infections, it’s worth considering an otoscope for use as a preliminary diagnosis tool. Store-bought devices are typically lower quality than the otoscope your doctor uses, but they can be a great first step towards detecting an issue.
For more information and tips for home otoscope use, take a look at the complete otoscope buying guide from BestReviews.
How to use an otoscope
First, check with your physician to make sure they approve of at-home otoscope use. Once you get their go-ahead, straighten the ear canal by gently pulling on the earlobe and carefully insert the device into the ear canal. Be careful not to apply too much pressure or go too deep. Many experts recommend placing a pinky finger on your child’s cheek to ensure the proper examination depth.
There are two main sizes of otoscopes available for purchase: standard size and pocket size. If you’re a physician or you need to regularly travel with your otoscope, then a pocket size might be suitable. These compact tools are typically about the size of a ballpoint pen and can be easily carried in your pocket or purse. Standard otoscopes are larger and more powerful, making them better-suited for occasional use.
The majority of store-bought otoscopes have a strength of 2.5x or 3x magnification, which is suitable for detecting most signs of obstruction and inflammation. Some professional models can reach up to 4.2x magnification. This strength level is considered a “macro view” and is best-suited for observing a particular part of the inner ear.
Otoscopes need a light source to see into the ear, nose or throat. Although filament bulbs were used for many years, LED lights have become much more common because they’re smaller and maintain consistent brightness for a longer period of time.
What to look for in a quality otoscope
The speculum is the part of the otoscope that lets you see into the ear canal. Depending on the model you choose, your device could use disposable or reusable specula. A reusable speculum is probably sufficient for most use at home, just be sure to disinfect it after every use.
Some store-bought otoscopes come with an USB port so you can connect the device to your smartphone or computer. These may not provide enough detail for accurate at-home diagnoses, but they’re great learning tools for aspiring physicians.
Most otoscopes are battery-powered and rechargeable for portability and convenience. AA or AAA batteries are commonly used, while certain high-end models can be charged via USB.
How much you can expect to spend on an otoscope
The cost of an otoscope can vary dramatically depending on the quality and whether it’s designed for professional use. Basic otoscopes can be purchased for less than $100, while professional models can regularly exceed $600.
Can an otoscope damage the ear?
A. Otoscopes can certainly damage the eardrum if they’re misused or inserted too deeply. Use caution when using an otoscope and never push the device forward if you feel a blockage.
How do I disinfect my otoscope?
A. After each use, use a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution and wipe the device with a microfiber or lint-free cloth.
What are the best otoscopes to buy?
What you need to know: A professional-quality otoscope that offers a 5x wider field of view than standard otoscopes.
What you’ll love: Perfect for diagnosing issues in the ear, nose and throat, this device comes with two ophthalmoscopes, an LED illuminator and rechargeable handles with an impressive battery life. The purchase also includes a zippered carrying case.
What you should consider: This otoscope set is considerably more expensive than comparable models, making it less appropriate for casual users.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top otoscope for the money
What you need to know: An extremely compact otoscope perfect for at-home examinations of the inner ear, nose or throat.
What you’ll love: Simple and affordable, this pocket otoscope comes with three specula sizes, 3x magnification strength and an extra bright LED lamp. The device has a clip just like a ballpoint pen for added portability and convenience, and the necessary AAA batteries are included with the purchase.
What you should consider: This device is suitable for home use but probably not powerful enough for a doctor’s office. Some users noted a design flaw with the built-in battery pack.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: A versatile otoscope that comes with two included batteries and a high-quality carrying case.
What you’ll love: This model features a scratch-resistant glass lens, making it perfect for repeated use at home. The device also includes detailed instructions with pictures, and users note how easy it is to replace the speculum. The case is durable and cushioned, making it well-suited for travel.
What you should consider: Some users experienced blurry images when using this otoscope, and others felt that the LED light was too bright for proper visibility.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Patrick Farmer writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.