A reliable otoscope that can provide clear images of the inner ear is an important device. Whether you work in a busy medical ward, a home caregiver, or even a parent looking after the family, a good otoscope will help make ear examinations a breeze.
These days there are many affordable instruments available. However, with the new range of digital otoscopes on the market, plus tried and tested manual options for the likes of Welch Allyn, it can be difficult to know what to go for.
When looking to buy a new otoscope there are some important factors to think about. The illumination ability and light settings is one such variable.
Many otoscopes feature LED lights where the intensity can be changed in accordance with the conditions.
There is also the issue of focal length and whether the otoscope comes with different heads to accommodate different sized ears, (i,e children and adults).
When jumping into the arena of the digital otoscope, camera resolution, device compatibility and overall quality of design should be considered.
In this review roundup, we will take a close look at 5 market-leading otoscopes with varying features across a range of price points and suitable applications. One of the following devices will no doubt suit your needs.
1. BEST FOR HOME-USE: Third Generation Dr Mom Slimline Stainless LED Pocket Otoscope
My favorite otoscope for home use is the Dr Mom slimline LED pocket device.
Lightweight and easy to use this, comes from a company that has over 20 years of designing otoscopes specifically for home use.
It features a removable, optical quality scratch-resistant glass Lens and is suitable for both pediatric and adult patients.
This is due to the included range of speculas. The 3 sizes (4mm for adults, 3mm for children, and 2.5mm for infants) provide a versatility normally reserved for professional-grade devices.
Dr. Mom also provides customers with online access to 30 high-resolution photos of eardrum pathology, alongside detailed instructions on how to properly use the device and diagnose any issues with the patient.
The LED offers a soft warm white light spectrum that also has the advantage of very low power consumption. (one set of batteries will last over a year of regular use).
The manufacturers also claim that the robust circuitry inside the unit will help ensure a longer working life while being more resistant to knocks.
This may help explain why Dr. Mom offers a very generous 100% forever guarantee on any issue with the otoscope. They have confidence that you’ll have very few problems.
Batteries, clamshell case, and 3 sizes specula are included in the package. Additional specula are available from the Dr. Mom website or on Amazon.
If you are looking for a robust and reliable otoscope for home use (that covers all patient ages), this is the unit to buy. My number one choice for good reason.
2. BEST FOR MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS: Welch Allyn 22820 PocketScope Otoscope with”AA” Handle
One of the best otoscopes for working professionals these days is the Welch Allyn 22820. This sophisticated device uses fiber optics to deliver a cool, easily defined light with no reflection.
The halogen light also helps highlight true skin tissue color tones, enabling for better prognosis.
Furthermore, the wide-angle lens and a light that doesn’t cause obstructions, means this otoscope really does deliver in terms of superior results.
It is a sealed system that allows for Pneumatic otoscopy. It also features a built-in throat illuminator/penlight for added functionality to suit working medical professionals.
This is accessed via the removable otoscope head. Once detached, the device becomes a simple all-purpose penlight.
Combine all the features of the 22820 and you have an otoscope that not only provides a comfortable patient experience but offers top-quality examination conditions too.
I believe I have already summed things up really. The Welch Allyn 22820 PocketScope Otoscope is a well-built device that includes some great features.
The light is designed specifically to offer superior examination conditions, what more can a medical professional ask for?
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3. USB Otoscope-Ear Scope Camera, Anykit New Upgraded 4.3mm Diameter Visual Ear Camera
These days, more and more traditionally analogue medical gear is turning digital for superior results and added features.
The otoscope is no different of course.
The first of the current digital otoscope to make my top 5 is this little offering from AnyKit, designed specifically for Android devices (with compatibility for Windows and Mac use too).
So what’s under the hood so to speak?
When talking about digital otoscopes the terminology does shift a bit from what we are used to. In the case of this device, AnyKit has added “state-of-the-art” technology in the form of a 720P HD camera sensor capable of up to 1.3m.
Replacing the simple light and glass viewfinder of a manual otoscope, the camera offers far superior viewing ability, providing clearer images and better color reproduction.
There is a LED light included mind you, with 6 different intensity settings. This helps to illuminate the dark ear canal allowing the camera to capture more detailed images.
However, you do need to think about the focal distance when using a camera-based otoscope. In this case, the focal length is fixed at 2-3cm (1 inch).
If the image becomes blurred there is no focus adjustment, you simply need to adjust the distance between the camera lens and the area of the ear to be examined.
Overheating of digital otoscopes has been an issue in the past, (no patient wants a hot device touching their ears), however with the Anykit superior chipset, the otoscope does not suffer from this, even during extended use.
As far as compatibility goes, this is an important area to be aware of. It is also one of the problems with opting for a digital device – you need to ensure it works with your mobile or laptop.
This particular otoscope works with Android 4.5+ devices, Windows 7/8/10, and MAC OS10.6+ PC. Updates to work with newer operating systems do happen, however, you are always at the risk of a manufacturer deciding not to support the device over time.
To reiterate, this is not this does not support the iPhone or iPad.
If you’re looking for a digital device for android, this otoscope from AnyKit is a natural choice. With a high-quality camera and 6 different light settings (all at a very good price), you will not be disappointed. iPhone and iPad users will need to look elsewhere, however.
4. BEST FOR MEDICAL STUDENTS: Bock Medical Edition ENT Kit: RA Bock Diagnostics Ear, Nose and Throat Exam Kit and Snellen Eye Chart
My top choice otoscope for medical students is this package from Bock Medical. Value for money is the name of the game here, as it is more than just an otoscope. It is also an eye and throat exam kit.
In all honesty, the package would also suit nurses and medical staff that are looking to replace their current otoscope and would get use out of the extra functionality too.
While the unit isn’t as high quality as some of the other devices reviewed here, purchasing this diagnostic set will mean you have everything you need to make careful examinations of the patient’s eye, nose, and mouth cavities. A fact that will certainly aid the average medical student on a budget.
The device features a bayonet Luer-locking mechanism. This enables the different heads to be used with ease.
The lens is an optical quality glass that is resistant to scratches. The lens is also hinged so that it can easily be moved aside for cleaning.
As with the majority of otoscopes of this design, the unit is powered by 2 standard C sized batteries.
Finally, the set provides two options in terms of the storage case. Choose from a lined and cushioned impact-resistant zippered case, or opt for a simple, hard plastic case.
If you’re a student or medical nurse looking for a versatile, all-in-one eye, nose, and mouth examination kit, this is the device to buy.
Great functionality at a great price. What’s not to like?
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5. BEST DIGITAL OTOSCOPE: Otoscopes iPhone, 4.3mm 720P HD Ear Camera Digital Ear Scope Camera
The second digital otoscope in my top 5 is this device. I have included this because not only is it a great unit, it also caters for those that own an iPhone.
The specifications include a 720P HD Visual Ear Camera, capable of 2.0 megapixels.
In other words, this is a high-resolution HD video for a clearer picture. The manufacturers do recommend that users focus from a distance of 2-3cm to ensure a sharp image.
Similar to the AnyKit digital otoscope reviewed above, the unit comes with 6 adjustable LED lights in order to illuminate the examination area.
This is easily adjustable using a simple button on the device, (with the lights being on the tip). When tympanic membrane checking, you will certainly need the extra light.
The otoscope comes with four specular tips of different sizes. These are also heat-resistant and suitable to be used on all patient ages.
The digital otoscope will connect up to your Android phone and tablet as well as iPhone IOS devices (8.0 and above) with ease.
Just scan the QR code on the back of the otoscope to download and install the app from google play or App store, your otoscope can then be connected to your phone or tablet via the the original charging cable of your device.
If you’re after a digital otoscope, this is the one to buy. It is a high-quality item with some great specs. Not only that, it is fully compatible with both Android and iPhone devices and can even be connected via WiFi rather than just USB. Highly recommended.
Factors to consider when buying an otoscope
An otoscope is an instrument used to examine the ears, nose, eyes, and throat. It is widely used by ENT physicians, as well as medical students who are specializing in ear diagnosis.
There is a wide variety of otoscopes on the market and it is very important to look at the characteristics of each one to make a good choice. Here are some factors that will help you choose the best medical device to observe the ears.
As you will have seen from our top picks, we categorized the above otoscopes in terms of whom they are best designed for.
For example, a parent looking to use an otoscope at home on their child will require a different device than a busy otolaryngologist specializing in eyes, throat, and mouth.
The difference will come down to the level of complexity as well as budget. The medical professional will require a more accurate, feature-packed otoscope than the parent.
Likewise, the demands and needs of a student will be different too. Essentially, you should think about the circumstances that you will be using the otoscope and purchase accordingly.
Light type and control
One of the most important components of the otoscope is the bulb. Most devices available today utilize LED bulbs because they are bright and energy-efficient. A LED otoscope will also require the use of a specula, (these are supplied upon purchase of the otoscope and are disposable in order to maintain hygiene).
Devices will also come with multiple small LEDs that are designed to reduce shadow within the ear and provide a clearer image.
Check the specifications to see if features such as the ability to adjust the intensity of the light as well as position is available. Such devices cost more, however, are beneficial for the professional.
Another important component of an otoscope that has a direct impact on the performance is the magnifying lens.
A common level of magnification is around x3 or x4, on today’s otoscopes. This will provide you with the magnification required for a detailed view of the internal structure of the ear.
An important accessory here is a cover for the lens. If it gets badly scratched, it could render your otoscope useless.
The otoscope you buy will inevitably be battery-powered. However, a device that has built-in rechargeable batteries that can be plugged into an outlet for recharge at the end of a shift is definitely recommended for the working professional.
An otoscope designed for home use doesn’t necessarily need to have this option as it will be used less. Swapping out batteries when the time comes would not be a hardship.
Finally, you should look into what’s included with the otoscope you buy. A good selection of speculas is a must. A well-designed case and/or cover to protect your device is also important.
As we have already mentioned, if the lens becomes scratched your otoscope may have to be replaced. A protective case will go a long way to preventing this.
How to use an Otoscope
Using an otoscope at home to conduct an ear examination for the first time can be daunting. Thankfully good old YouTube has a number of guide videos on how to use one.
The one embedded above was produced by students at Oxford University Medical School, (ENT faculty) and helps explain the best way to perform an examination of the ear using an otoscope.
- “Comparison of a traditional otoscope to iPhone otoscope in the pediatric ED” The American Journal of Emergency Medicine Volume 33, Issue 8, August 2015, Pages 1089-1092. [Link]
- “Electric Otoscopy—A Basic Pediatric Skill: Notes on the Essentials of Otoscopic Examination and on the Evaluation of Otoscopes” Sylvan E. Stool, Joseph Anticaglia First Published August 1, 1973. https://doi.org/10.1177/000992287301200812 [Link]
- “Comparison of the diagnostic accuracies of four main otoscopic examination methods” M Kocyıgıt, C Uzun – International Journal of Surgery and Medicine, 2017 [PDF Link]
- “Otoscopy“, Samuel R. Falkson; Prasanna Tadi. November 16, 2020, Stanford University School of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556090/