Parenting Hack: Before your Child’s Next Earache, Get an Otoscope (But Not Just Any Otoscope)

Parenting Hack- Before your Child's Next Earache, Get an Otoscope (But Not Just Any Otoscope)
Picture of Teri Krieger

Teri Krieger

Director of Sales

Although the ear otoscope, a tool used to look in ears, has been used pretty much exclusively by doctors for almost 400 years, modern technology is now helping parents conduct ear exams themselves. Caring parents can now easily capture real-time images of their child’s ear to share with their physician for a diagnosis.

But not all ear-checking devices are the same. This article will explore the device doctors use to look into ears, what doctors look for during an ear-check exam, and why owning an otoscope can be beneficial.


What is an otoscope?

The beginning of ear-checking devices can be traced back to the 1300s when a renowned French physician and surgeon, Guy de Chauliac, envisioned a device to check ears by looking into the ears. This was the first known description of this medical tool that would one day be invented and used to check the ears of billions of people around the world.

But it wasn’t until about 300 years later in the mid-1600s and late 1700s that models were developed. These early otoscopes looked more like tongs, similar to nasal speculums.

The creation of the modern otoscope began in the middle of the 19th century when a German otologist named Wilhelm Kramer developed a steel speculum with a distinct funnel shape.

In 1881, A. Hartmann of Berlin created an otoscope with a style that resembles what we see today.

The modern otoscope, also called an auriscope, is a handheld diagnostic tool doctors use to look into the ears and ear canal. They may also use it to examine the nose and upper throat.

The instrument consists of a head and a handle. The head has a magnifying lens, a light source, and a speculum.

The light and magnifying lens enlarge and illuminate ear structures, allowing the clinician to visualize and evaluate the patient’s health accurately.

The speculum is a viewing piece shaped like a funnel with a narrow pointed tip. Specula come in different diameters to accommodate the size of the ear passage.

There are different kinds of otoscopes. A pneumatic otoscope comes with a rubber squeeze bulb that can be used to apply pressure to the eardrum to assess its movement. A video otoscope uses a small camera in the external auditory canal to visualize the ear drum.

Here is what the state-of-the-art Nonagon digital otoscope, which captures high-definition video of the inner ear to share with a clinician, looks like… 


What do doctors look for when using an otoscope?

Apart from the common cold, ear diseases or infections are the most common childhood illness and the most common reason parents bring their children to the doctor.1,2 In fact, five out of six children will have an ear infection before they reach three years old.3

Children with ear infections often tug or pull at the ear or complain of ear pain.4 But the only way for a physician to confirm that someone has an ear infection is for them to see what’s inside the ear and, from here, interpret the symptoms and give a diagnosis.5

A doctor can use an otoscope to inspect the ear canal, eardrum, and middle ear to check for an ear infection (otitis media).5

They will see the following during an ear examination of a healthy eardrum:6

  • eardrum appears pearly white or light grey
  • the ear canal, lined with some yellowish-brown ear wax
  • tiny bones visible in the middle ear
  • slight movement of eardrums when air is applied


What does an ear infection look like through an otoscope?

In contrast, an ear with an infection (acute otitis media)  may appear red, swollen, or inflamed when there is an infection. It can also appear opaque, bulging, and immobile.5

Aside from this, an ear examination (otoscopy) can help doctors diagnose a wide variety of ear conditions,5 including:

  • wax buildup (cerumen impaction)
  • foreign objects in the ear
  • otitis media with effusion (OME)
  • otitis externa (OE)
  • malignant otitis externa
  • cholesteatoma
  • tympanic membrane perforation


Checking the ears using an at-home otoscope

Image of a mother using the N9+ otoscope to examine the young boy's ear for diagnosing of ear infections via telehealth.

Many ear infections clear up on their own without treatment after several days.7 This is why many parents hesitate to go to a doctor.

If that describes you, you can use an at-home otoscope like the one in the Nonagon Care Kit, which provides an easy and convenient way to examine the ear and get an accurate diagnosis without leaving your house—saving you a trip to the doctor’s office.

However, not all at-home otoscopes are the same. Some are FDA-cleared, and some are not. Some allow you to snap a photo, and some don’t. But there is only one kind (that we’re aware of) that comes in a kit, which, paired with your smartphone, can conduct nine medical exams with clinic-grade quality and share the results with your physician. It’s called Nonagon, and I’m partial to it, in part because I work here and in part because I’ve seen how well it works with my own family and enjoy using it myself while avoiding many trips to the doctor’s office as a result. 

It image represents a lady using the Nonagon N9+ otoscope to examine her ear for diagnosing ear infections via telehealth

Whether you decide to order a Nonagon Care Kit or a different ear-check device, some things that are important to consider are whether the at-home otoscope device is FDA-cleared, whether it can share high-definition images of the inner ear and throat with a physician remotely, and how convenient it is to use.

Nonagon’s Care Kit features an FDA-cleared, WIFI-based at-home otoscope. You can connect the device to your smartphone, making it easy to see inside your child’s ear through its HD inspection camera.

Another great add-on is that it comes with different-sized specula to suit different ear sizes, including a pediatric-sized speculum for kids.


While very common, ear infections can be a cause of unease and anxiety for both you and your children. Having an at-home otoscope can give you the peace of mind of being able to quickly work with your doctor and identify issues related to your child’s ear.

Nonagon’s Care Kit has a user-friendly, FDA-cleared WIFI-based otoscope that lets you check your child’s ears with ease. The Nonagon Care Kit also gives you the power to conduct nine medical examinations in clinical-grade quality and effortlessly syncs to your phone, so you can supply the medical data straight from home to your doctor. Visit Nonagon to learn more about the Nonagon Care Kit and its comprehensive solution for remote healthcare!


  1. Leibovitz, Eugene et al. “Current management of pediatric acute otitis media.” Expert review of anti-infective therapy vol. 8,2 (2010): 151-61. doi:10.1586/eri.09.112
  2. Büyükcam, Ayşe et al. “Pediatricians’ attitudes in management of acute otitis media and ear pain in Turkey.” International journal of pediatric otorhinolaryngology vol. 107 (2018): 14-20. doi:10.1016/j.ijporl.2018.01.011
  3. Worrall, Graham. “Acute earache.” Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien vol. 57,9 (2011): 1019-21, e320-2.
  4. “Ear infections.” Paediatrics & child health vol. 14,7 (2009): 465-8. doi:10.1093/pch/14.7.465
  5. Mankowski NL, Raggio BS. Otoscope Exam. [Updated 2022 Jan 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-. Available from:
  6. Myburgh, Hermanus C et al. “Otitis Media Diagnosis for Developing Countries Using Tympanic Membrane Image-Analysis.” EBioMedicine vol. 5 156-60. 8 Feb. 2016, doi:10.1016/j.ebiom.2016.02.017
  7. [Internet]. Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); 2006-. Middle ear infection: Overview. 2009 Jun 29 [Updated 2019 May 9]. Available from:

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