An ear exam is a thorough check of the ears. It is done to screen for ear problems, such as hearing loss, ear pain, discharge, lumps, or objects in the ear. An ear exam can find problems in the ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear. These problems may include infection, too much earwax, or an object like a bean or a bead.
During an ear exam, a tool called an otoscope is used to look at the outer ear canal and eardrum. An otoscope is a handheld tool with a light and a magnifying lens. It also has a funnel-shaped viewing piece with a narrow, pointed end called a speculum. A pneumatic otoscope has a rubber bulb that your doctor can squeeze to give a puff of air into the ear canal. The air helps the doctor to see how the eardrum moves.
An ear exam may be done:
How To Prepare
It is important to sit very still during an ear exam. A young child should be lying down with his or her head turned to the side. Or the child may sit on an adult's lap with the child's head resting securely on the adult's chest. Older children and adults can sit with the head tilted slightly toward the opposite shoulder.
Your doctor may need to remove earwax in order to see the eardrum.
How It Feels
The physical exam of the ear using an otoscope usually isn't painful. If you have an ear infection, putting the otoscope into the ear canal may cause mild pain.