The Best Otoscope Guide: Doctors’ Review

Have you ever bought something that you thought was a bargain only to be let-down immediately once you’ve used the product? This is a costly mistake you want to avoid when choosing otoscopes.
The market is unfortunately flooded with exceptionally poor quality otoscopes that are unsuitable for most ear examinations.

What differentiates a good and bad otoscope? How much does or should an otoscope cost?

In this guide we present the top otoscopes that Ear, Nose, and Throat doctors have voted as the best otoscopes, delivering the highest value-for-money. Whether for doctors, medical students, or for home use, we’ve ranked the best otoscopes for every need.

We review the best otoscopes and answer common questions:
• How to choose the best otoscope to buy
• How much should an otoscope cost?
• Important criteria in choosing an otoscope,
• How to avoid the number one mistake when trying to choose the best otoscope:

The above otoscopes were reviewed and selected as best for a clinical or professional use. We understand needs are different in other settings, such as for home use, or for educational purposes, or veterinary use. We’ve reviewed all of the currently widely available otoscopes on the market and selected the best ones for each of the below categories:

Best Otoscopes of 2018: Reviewed

ImageProduct Details
bsg2-table__imageBest Choice OverallWelch Allyn 3.5v Coaxial / Macroview Diagnostic Set
  • A complete view of the tympanic membrane with twice the field of view and 30% greater magnification than traditional otoscopes
  • High clarity and definition of landmarks
  • Ability to adjust focus for variable ear canal length or farsighted eyes
  • A complete view of the tympanic membrane with twice the field of view and 30% greater magnification than traditional otoscopes
  • High clarity and definition of landmarks
  • Ability to adjust focus for variable ear canal length or farsighted eyes
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bsg2-table__imageOur #2 ChoiceWelch Allyn Pocket Scope Junior Diagnostic Set
  • Halogen fiber optic light illuminates true tissue colour
  • Wide-angle viewing lens allows for instrumentation under magnification
  • Sealed system for pneumatic otoscope
  • Halogen fiber optic light illuminates true tissue colour
  • Wide-angle viewing lens allows for instrumentation under magnification
  • Sealed system for pneumatic otoscope
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bsg2-table__imageOur #3 ChoiceRA Bock 3.2V Bright White LED Full ENT Otoscope Set
  • Scratch-resistant optical glass lens
  • Variable light intensity rheostat type switch
  • Bright energy-efficient LED bulbs in all instrument heads
  • Scratch-resistant optical glass lens
  • Variable light intensity rheostat type switch
  • Bright energy-efficient LED bulbs in all instrument heads
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bsg2-table__imageOur #4 ChoiceWelch Allyn Pocket Scope Otoscope
  • Halogen light for true tissue color and consistent illumination
  • Fiber optic anti-reflective light
  • Wide-angle view allows for instrumentation under magnification
  • Halogen light for true tissue color and consistent illumination
  • Fiber optic anti-reflective light
  • Wide-angle view allows for instrumentation under magnification
Check Price →
 

THE BEST DIGITAL OTOSCOPES: TOP 3

The benefit of digital otoscopes is that multiple users can view at the same time, and they have photo or video recording abilities. These are particularly useful for educational settings when teaching medical students, or in veterinary use. When using digitial otoscopes, while the instructor handles the scope, other viewers and students can view live simultaneously on a separate screen. Photos are can be saved or sent digitally. Many new digital scopes are being released now that are both incredibly cheap while producing high quality or HD images. The best thing is that digital otoscopes often cost significantly less than their traiditional counterparts. How much? In our experience some decent ones cost from $40-100. These are our favourite on the market in 2017:

  1. ENTO 2.0 Digital Otoscope for PC & Mac
  2. Firefly DE551 Wireless Veterinary Digital Video Otoscope
  3. Teslong USB Ear Scope with 6 LED Lights for Android, Mac and PC

 

 

BEST OTOSCOPE FOR HOME USE REVIEWED:

Home-use otoscopes don’t need the many functionalities or specifications of professional ones. One good enough to see the general condition of the ear and know whether your child needs to see a doctor is what you need. This Dr Mom set is very easy to use, compatible with standard batteries, and comes with a handy guide of common ear conditions. The best thing? It comes at a fraction of the cost of a professional otoscope.

4th Generation Dr Mom LED pocket otoscope

 

HOW TO CHOOSE AN OTOSCOPE

Does the sheer array of otoscopes that are available confuse you?

It’s temping to just buy any one within your price range and hope for the best. But that’s almost guaranteed to be a costly mistake. We explain why later.

But it’s really very easy to choose the best otoscope for your needs if you know which features are important to you:

Let’s start by breaking down the different options available to buy.

SIZE 

First off, decide where you intend to use your otoscope and whether you intend to carry it around. If you need it to be easily portable, then you want to buy a pocket otoscope, rather than a standard size otoscope. Pocket otoscopes are very light and portable, and can be as small as pen-sized, but are often not as durable and will have a shorter lifespan.

Those with large hands may find using a pocket otoscope tricky. On the other hand, some standard sized otoscopes can be rather heavy. But ultimately both standard and pocket size are portable.

PROFESSIONAL OR HOME USE

Needless to say the quality of otoscopes varies dramatically from just good-enough to see the Ear Drum to macroscopically detailed views of changes on the Tympanic Membrane. When buying for home use, portability and size play less of a role.
To skip to our recommended otoscopes for home use click here. Or keep reading to learn about other features that matter when selecting a professional otoscope for doctors or medical students.

MAGNIFICATION

Magnifications typically come in 2.5x or 3x for standard otoscopes, or 4.2x with some Macro view otoscopes. Do you already regularly use an otoscope?

If yes, stick to the magnification you’re used to. If no, a greater magnification provides more detail and usually a greater field of view. The Welch Allyn brand MacroView is an example of this kind, and is the best of the macroview otoscopes.

LIGHT SOURCE

Otoscope lamps are either traditional filament bulbs or LED bulbs. The quality and strength of light varies greatly, so this is one of the more important areas to pay attention to when choosing an otoscope to buy. 

Filament Bulbs:
When new, emit a strong clear light that allows for a very detailed view
 Short Lifespan (tens of hours), needs frequent replacing with heavy use
 Delicate, prone to damage when knocked

LED Bulbs:
 New LED bulbs (e.g. HEINE HQ CRI) emit high quality light in natural colour
 Long lifespan (thousands of hours) and durability, cheaper long-term
 Require less power/battery
 Early generation/cheap LED bulbs give off pale artificial light

The lamp can either be within the headpiece of the otoscope (Direct light) or transmitted indirectly (Fibre Optic) usually in the form of a light ring around the head. The benefit of a fibre-optic otoscope is that the bulb does not obstruct your view during examination.

Some otoscopes only have an on/off switch, while others with rheostat allow dimming and control of brightness.

 

EXTRA FUNCTIONS

Many otoscopes have a lense that can be removed or moved so that instruments such as a Jobson Horne or micro suction tube can be passed through the otoscope into the ear canal. This is a useful function if you would like to be able to remove foreign bodies or secretions from the ear canal.

Standard sized otoscopes often have an insufflation bulb which allows you to perform pneumatic otoscopy. This is a useful feature if you want to test ears for middle ear effusions also known as Glue Ear (Otitis Media with Effusion) or other conditions which may interfere with the ventilation of the ear through the Eustachian tube, such as Adenoid Hypertrophy.

POWER SOURCE 

Otoscopes can be battery powered, rechargeable, or connected to a power source by cable. Determine how much you intend to carry your otososcope around and how heavily you will be using it to help you choose which is best to buy. The best top of the range otoscopes tend to come with rechargeable batteries within the handle.

Cable-powered / wired Otoscopes often come as a set with an Opthalmoscope and a wall-mount.

 

FINAL ADVICE

The initial cost of an otoscope sometimes pales in comparison to the lifetime cost of replacement bulbs and batteries. With otoscopes it often pays to invest in a higher quality otoscope from the start, which not only results in a better examination experience, but often works out cheaper over its lifetime cost, by saving on expensive battery and bulb replacements. The money saved by buying a cheaper otoscope is often soon spent on replacement parts – or even new otoscopes – as cheaper models break. Make sure you understand the true cost over an otoscope’s lifetime before you buy.

In summary, these are the things you should consider when choosing to buy:
• Standard vs pocket size (portable)
• LED or filament bulb
• Professional functions: Macro, insufflation port, rheostat, removable lens
• Battery vs rechargeable vs mains powered
• Direct or Indirect (fiber optic) light source

And Finally…
Diagnostic sets together with an Opthalmoscope often works out significantly cheaper than buying each separately. They are certainly worth considering, and we’ve chosen our favourite sets here.

THE OTOSCOPIC EXAMINATION OF THE EAR: HOW TO USE AN OTOSCOPE

how to use an otoscope

WHAT IS AN OTOSCOPE AND HOW ARE THEY USED?

The name originates from the Greek “oto” and “scope” meaning “Ear” and “to look”. These are medical devices used to examine the ear. It gives a direct and magnified view of the ear canal and Ear drum (Tympanic membrane). This is the external ear.
They are composed of a handle (often containing the battery or power source) and head with a light source, and a speculum to insert into the ear canal. The examiner’s eye is then placed directly against the viewfinder to see into the ear canal.

 

PROPER OTOSCOPE USE: HOW TO HOLD AN OTOSCOPE IN AN EAR EXAMINATION

 

1. The handle is held like a pen, with the head pointing downwards.
2. Hold the otoscope in your right hand to examine the right ear, and the left hand to examine the left ear.
3. In adults: Pull the external ear (pinna) upwards and backwards to straighten the ear canal.
In children: Pull the ear/pinna gently backwards.
4. Rest your free fingers against the patient’s cheek/face to stabilize the otoscope as you insert the speculum into the ear.

COMMON CONDITIONS OF THE EAR

Using an otoscope we are able to see the external ear: from external auditory meatus to the tympanic membrane. This means we’re able to diagnose conditions and see pathology of the outer ear. In the event of symptoms, but a normal outer ear on examination, this could suggest pathology of the middle or inner ear structures.

Anatomy of the Ear

Otitis Externa

Otitis Externa

This is a common infection of the outer ear, usually due to a bacteria or fungus. The ear canal and external ear (pinna) are often swollen and tender to touch. In particular, pressure on the tragus or tug of the ear lobule (see image) causes pain. It is accompanied by creamy white ear secretions.
Otitis Externa will often require topical treatment with an antibiotic and steroid ear drop, such as Sofradex or Ciproxin HC.
In severe cases, the ear canal is so swollen a full examination is not possible, as a speculum cannot be inserted (see image right). In this event, a doctor will need to insert a meche or pope wick, to open the ear canal and allow medication to enter.

 

Otitis Media with or without Effusion (aka. Glue Ear)

This is an infection of the middle ear space. It’s very common in children and is often accompanied by an effusion in the middle ear. The ear drum (tympanic membrane) will appear red, and sometimes bulging or with a yellow fluid-level visible through it. Children may have a fever and experience great pain in the ear. Sometimes the ear drum (tympanic membrane) will burst spontaneously and the effusion will empty out of the ear canal. Pain will often improve at this point. Children with repetitive Otitis Media infections may benefit from a Grommet insertion.

IMPORTANT NOTE: A dangerous complication of Otitis Media is Mastoiditis, an infection of the Mastoid bone behind the ear. Mastoiditis is recognized by a red and tender swelling behind the ear (the pinna will often be pushed forward) and a high fever. This is a serious medical condition that requires hospitalization and treatment with intravenous antibiotics.

Foreign Body

Children are notoriously known for inserting small foreign bodies into their ears and noses. An otoscope can be used to look inside a nostril for foreign bodies too. In these situations, a removable lens comes in handy so small forceps or Jobson Hornes can be passed through to remove the foreign body. The first sign of a foreign body in children is a funny smell emitting from the nose or ear, sometime accompanied by a discharge or secretion.

REPUTABLE BRANDS:

• Welch Allyn
• Riester
• Heine
• Siegel
• Keeler
• Happersberger Otopront
• Dr Mom (for home use)
• ADC
• Walgreens

Related Guides

Best Stethoscope for Doctors

Best Stethoscope for Medical Students