How is an ear infection diagnosed?

Ear exam

Your healthcare provider will look at your or your child’s ear using an instrument called an otoscope. A healthy eardrum will be pinkish gray in color and translucent (clear). If infection is present, the eardrum may be inflamed, swollen or red.

Your healthcare provider may also check the fluid in the middle ear using a pneumatic otoscope, which blows a small amount of air at the eardrum. This should cause the eardrum to move back and forth. The eardrum will not move as easily if there is fluid inside the ear.

Another test, tympanometry, uses air pressure to check for fluid in the middle ear. This test doesn’t test hearing. If needed, your healthcare provider will order a hearing test, performed by an audiologist, to determine possible hearing loss if you or your child has had long lasting or frequent ear infections or fluid in the middle ears that is not draining.

Other checks

Your healthcare provider will also check your throat and nasal passage and listen to your breathing with a stethoscope for signs of upper respiratory infections.

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