Looking for the best otoscope? We'll help you find the right one for your needs and budget – and then help you find where to buy it at the best price.
The ear can tell you a lot about your state of health, and the otoscope is the tool to help do that. You can choose from traditional optical devices to help peer into someone else’s ear, or one with a digital camera which makes self-examination possible. Whether you’re worried about ear-wax or ear infections, yourself, your kids or your pets, there is a tool for you.
An otoscope is used to view into the ear canal, past the sicilian hairs which keep dirt out, to give a view of the ear drum (or tympanic membrane). A light in the device will illuminate the drum and a cone of light should be reflected from a healthy taught ear drum. Beyond that lie the Ossicle bones and nerves – not somewhere to push a camera, so these devices must be used with care.
The classic otoscope, which you might remember from visiting the doctor, tend to feature a light and lens with about 3x of magnification. More modern alternatives are more like a borescope, a favorite tool of DIY enthusiasts. We cover those in a separate guide, but suffice to say it’s best to use a different tool on your ears than the one you use for sticking down the drain to recover a dropped wedding ring!
Best otoscopes in 2021
The great thing about this device is the ability to inspect your own ear as well as others since the screen is not even connected. This is a distinctly ‘second generation’ of personal otoscope, with a 5 megapixel endoscope-like camera which is just 3mm in diameter, surrounded by 6 LEDs (which can be adjusted for brightness in steps). Lag is a slight issue, as is having the coordination to adjust your ear to get a clear, but once you master it you can attach one of the many tiny scoop-like tools to conduct your own earwax cleaning. Only the lens is IP67 waterproof for cleaning, but that is enough, and the focal length is 1.5-2cm (closer than earlier otoscopes). The tidy design of the case impresses, as does the picture quality; the only real complaint is an app must be installed first!
There’s little need to invest too heavily on a home otoscope if all you’re looking for is a tool to sit in the first aid drawer and – if called for – allow you to quickly check an ear. That’s why this Bysameyee is essentially just an LED torch with an otoscope adapter, and some other accessories. Two AAA batteries live inside the stainless steel tube, likely providing all the power you’ll need for the device’s lifetime, though you might find that it needs a bit of a shake to get the power flowing because of the dubious quality. On the plus side, as well as ear speculums a tongue depressor is included so you can use this light for checking the throat, another area which will reveal signs of infection.
It would be perfectly sensible for a student to pick a traditional diagnostic tool, like the Welch Allyn pocketscope. It can be cheaper and – depending on your needs – more useful to use a device with a monitor and the ability to save images for later discussion. With a 5-inch monitor (1080p) plugged straight into the 2 megapixel 3.9mm probe there is no faffing with apps, and no wi-fi latency. The viewer can also store images directly to the supplied MicroSD card and pause the view with the touch of a button. The price is home-user friendly, so not too troubling to students either.
If you want the best (and are prepared to pay for it), then this isn’t quite it – the top-of-the-line Welch Allyn otoscopes cost more than a $500. This is a chance to get in on the same brand used by an overwhelming number of US medical practitioners without quite burning as big a hole in the pocket. That makes sense if you’re not planning on using it as much, or you’re a medical student. There is, of course, a metaphorical price to pay; while the device has good consistent halogen illumination, cool and unobstructed thanks to fibre-optic design, the device – and especially the switch – just don’t feel quite as tough as the truly professional models. Similarly you’ll have to swap traditional AA batteries from time to time rather than drop it in the charger. That said, this is definitely one step closer to the device your practitioner uses, even if it isn’t actually the same.
Sold to vets and pet lovers looking to keep an eye on their pets, this device has a pleasingly retro feel thanks to the metal engraved to give the user a firm grip; good-looking and functional. The three polypropylene speculars (the pointy end) can be sterilized in an autoclave (medical washing machine), making this ideal for regular use. The brightness is adjustable thanks to the rheostat at the top of the handle, which is easily manipulated with the thumb. Furthermore, the magnifying power is 4x, putting it ahead of some others available. Perhaps it’s a shame the storage box is plastic – somehow it feels like it deserves engraved wood – and, seriously, who uses ‘C’ batteries any more? Those are both minor niggles though.
Capable of capturing images of 2048 x 1536 (3 megapixels) through the 3.9mm (0.15 inch) probe, this device has both detail and the camera probe compact enough for kids. An extra boost when working with kids is the gyro digital stabilization which – while it won’t completely overcome the issue of digital lag, nor, of course, subdue a skeptical infant – does make life easier. It’s a shame to only have 3 brightness settings (cycled with the button on the body), but it is convenient to have USB charging rather than disposable batteries. Also included with the pack are 2 alcohol cleaning pads (obviously you’ll need more to keep it clean in the long run) and 3 detachable ear picks which – if you can master the art – can be used to clean your own ear. Software generally OK, but sometimes a re-start is needed.