Updated January 2022
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Buying guide for best otoscopes

When diagnosing ear complaints, the otoscope is perhaps the most important tool of any healthcare professional's trade. As such, it's important to buy a quality model that fits the needs of both user and patients. You don't need to be a doctor or nurse to use an otoscope, either. In fact, otoscopes are quite popular with parents who want to monitor their children's ear health.

Searching for the best otoscope involves the consideration of various factors, including the type and sizes of the included or compatible specula, the variety and brightness of the lamp, and the degree of magnification it provides. Because some otoscopes are sizable investments, it’s important to understand what you want and what is offered by a particular product before you buy.

Whether you're a trained professional or an interested amateur, you can read our full guide to otoscopes to learn more about the choices available. If you’re ready to shop, we invite you to check out the otoscopes we’ve recommended.

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Some home otoscopes come with a booklet that shows you what some common ear infections look like to help you diagnose any complaints.

Key considerations

Pocket vs. standard otoscopes

Generally, otoscopes are either a “standard” or “pocket” size. While standard otoscopes aren't exactly huge, pocket-size otoscopes are extremely compact (around the size of a pen) and feature a clip to attach them to your pocket. Healthcare professionals who use their otoscope frequently may find it far more convenient to have an otoscope in their pocket ready to go at all times. For occasional home use, however, a standard otoscope will do just fine.

The drawback of pocket otoscopes is that they tend to be flimsier than larger models and therefore don't last as long. Also, the matter life can be shorter.


The majority of otoscopes feature either 2.5x or 3x magnification, which in most cases is strong enough to view the eardrum properly. However, you can also find models with macro viewers that boost magnification to 4.2x. Not only is a macro viewer beneficial when you want to take a closer look at a particular part of the ear, it can also be helpful for nearsighted users.

Some high-end otoscopes feature adjustable magnification, so you can zoom in and out as needed. If you're unsure what degree of magnification you require, opt for the standard 2.5x to 3x magnification, which is sufficient for the majority of examinations.

Specula sizes

The speculum is the part of the otoscope that you put inside the ear.  It's important that you use a speculum of the correct size. Otherwise, it could be uncomfortable for the person you're examining.

An otoscope should have a range of specula included, each of a different size. Although sizes may vary somewhat depending on which model you choose, you'll normally find 2.5mm specula for infants and young children, 3mm specula for older children, and 4mm specula for adults. Occasionally, a set might include additional larger or smaller sizes to fit non-standard ears. You can also buy these separately.


All otoscopes have a lamp, as you need a dedicated light source to clearly illuminate the inside of the ear. The lamp may use a filament bulb or an LED bulb. Until recently, filament bulbs generally gave a better view inside the ear and were the only option strong and bright enough to show adequate detail for professional use. However, with superior LED technology now available, a high-quality LED bulb can allow you to satisfactorily distinguish the necessary details. What's more, LED bulbs won't dim over time like filament bulbs do, so their performance won't deteriorate.

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Did you know?
You can find some USB otoscopes that plug into your phone to show you the inside of the ear. They aren't high-quality enough for diagnostic use, but they can be handy to use at home.


Specula type

Specula can be reusable or disposable. In professional healthcare settings, reusable specula must be sterilized in between uses, so many doctors and nurses use disposable specula for convenience.

Power source

Although some hospitals and doctors' offices use wired otoscopes, the vast majority are battery-powered for easy portability. These may have built-in rechargeable batteries in the handle, or they may take standard single-use batteries. Rechargeable batteries tend to have a shorter battery life and may only last a few days before they need to be charged. However, you may be able to save money by recharging your batteries.

Ophthalmoscope attachment

Some otoscopes have attachments that enable the handle to be used as an opthalmoscope (either coaxial or panoptic) to examine the fundus of the eye. These are generally found in high-end sets designed for use by medical professionals. If you're looking for an amateur otoscope for home use, you don't need to worry about this type of attachment.

Removable lens

Some otoscopes have removable lenses so you can take out the lens and insert an instrument. This can be handy if you need to remove a foreign body from the ear. However, we don’t recommend that you attempt to do this without medical training. If you're using your otoscope at home and notice something in the ear of the person you're examining, consult your doctor right away.

Otoscope prices

The cost of otoscopes varies widely. Price depends, in part, on whether the instrument is designed for home or professional use.

Home otoscopes generally cost between $20 and $70, depending on size and features. Basic professional otoscopes cost around $100 to $200, whereas high-end professional models with all the bells and whistles can cost from $200 to $1,000.


  • Before you buy, find out how easy it is to switch between specula. It should be a straightforward process, but if it’s not, you may wish to look elsewhere.

  • Consider choosing an otoscope with a fiber optic light. These sit in a ring around the speculum, whereas a direct light source sits inside the speculum. With a fiber optic light, there's nothing obstructing your view through the speculum.

  • Be mindful of the potential for injury when using your otoscope. Rest your little finger on the cheek of the person you're examining while you hold the otoscope between your thumb and index finger. This way, if the patient suddenly moves their head toward you, your hand will go with them, and they won't jam the otoscope further into their ear canal.

  • Decide whether you need a case for your otoscope. Some otoscopes come with a case for carrying and storing. However, you may not require one. This all depends on how you intend to use your otoscope.
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Otoscopes with scratch-resistant lenses are far more durable than other choices and can stand up to heavy use without marring your view.


Q. What are otoscopes used for?
Otoscopes let you get a good look inside the ear. As such, they're used for diagnosing or assessing a range of ear-related complaints, including ear infections, perforated eardrums, excess ear wax, and foreign bodies stuck in the ear.

Q. I'm not a medical professional. Can I use an otoscope at home?
There are no laws restricting otoscope use to medical professionals, so you absolutely can use one at home without any kind of qualification. They can be useful for parents of kids who suffer recurrent ear infections, for example, or for people who regularly get earwax blockages. That said, using an otoscope isn't an alternative to seeing a medical professional.

Q. What are the signs of an ear infection?
One of the most common reasons for people who aren't in the medical profession to buy an otoscope is to look for ear infections, so what are the signs? Ear infections are often characterized by red, inflamed ear drums and/or fluid in the ear, which may be clear, yellow, or green. However, some ear infections have a non-standard presentation, so if your child is complaining of ear pain, see a pediatrician or nurse, even if you don't see any obvious signs of infection with your otoscope.

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