During medical examinations, a doctor will check inside a person's ears using a medical device that is called an otoscope. The otoscope requires the use of an ear speculum. An ear speculum is an attachment that fits on the otoscope and allows the doctor to see into the inner ear. It resembles a funnel in that it is wider on one end and narrows down on the opposite end.
Originally, ear specula were designed to be like forceps or tongs so that they could widen the ear for examination. Eventually this type of speculum was made with a cone like tip, however it still maintained its tong-like shape. This type of speculum was known as the Kramer's ear speculum. A change of design came as a result of the efforts made by a general practitioner named Ignaz Gruber. His design underwent a series of improvements until the modern ear speculum design was introduced in 1881.
Also known as an aural speculum, an ear speculum can be a rigid or soft conical attachment that is made of plastic, stainless steel or chrome. It comes in a number of different sizes that range from about 3 mm to 7 mm. When selecting the speculum, the doctor should use one that is large enough for the patient's ear so that it fits comfortably during the examination. The wider end of the speculum is attached to the end of the otoscope, with the narrower portion facing outward. This narrower section is then placed inside of the cavity of the ear.
Depending on the particular speculum it may be reusable or, in some cases, it is meant to be used only one time before it must be disposed of. When the speculum is reusable, it must be sterilized. This is typically done using an autoclave, which is a machine that uses pressurized steam to sterilize medical equipment.
There are a number of reasons why a person would need the inside of the ear examined. One of the common and most obvious reasons is to determine the cause of diminished hearing. Pain is another common reason why a doctor may want to do an examination of the inner ear. During the examination, the angle of the speculum may be shifted, or adjusted, in order to get a different or better view. This helps the doctor to best determine what is causing the potential problem, such as injury, excessive build-up of ear wax or an infection.