Health Library

Our Health Library information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Please be advised that this information is made available to assist our patients to learn more about their health. Our providers may not see and/or treat all topics found herein.

Home Ear Examination


A home ear exam is a visual inspection of the ear canal and eardrum using a device called an otoscope. An otoscope is a handheld device with a light, a magnifying lens, and a funnel-shaped viewing piece. It has a narrow, pointed end called a speculum that you put inside the ear canal. You can buy this device without a prescription at pharmacies and other retail stores. Some models can connect to your phone and take pictures. This may be helpful in some cases if you have an online visit with your doctor. Ask your doctor.

It can be hard to learn to use an otoscope. If you buy one, be sure to read and follow the instructions that come with it.

Never use a home otoscope to diagnose or treat ear problems. If you have concerns about an ear problem, go to your doctor for an ear exam.

Tips for doing a home ear exam

Always read and follow the use and cleaning instructions that came with your otoscope.

Here are some tips for safely doing a home ear exam.

  • Always move the device slowly and gently while doing the exam. Stop if there's any sign of increased pain.
  • Be especially careful when doing an ear exam on a child. Don't do the exam if the child can't sit still.
  • If the person is having problems with only one ear, examine the other ear first. This may make it easier to see what is different about the affected ear.
  • To see the eardrum better, hold the otoscope in one hand. Use your free hand to pull the outer ear gently up and back. This straightens the ear canal.

Risks of a home ear exam

The pointed end of the otoscope can scrape the skin of the ear canal. So make sure that you insert the otoscope slowly and carefully. Scraping the lining of the ear canal rarely causes bleeding or infection. But be careful to avoid pain or injury.

An otoscope can push an object closer to the eardrum. If you see an object in the ear, do not move the otoscope forward. 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 blocking it.


Current as of: February 28, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.