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What is a Disposable Speculum?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 27 November 2016
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A disposable speculum is a specialized medical instrument intended for a single use. Speculums are designed to allow a doctor to directly visualize an internal cavity of the body such as the ear or the anus. While they were historically made from materials that were designed to be sterilized and reused, today it is increasingly common to see physicians using disposable speculums, for a variety of reasons. Medical supply catalogs sell these instruments and they can also be purchased through medical clinics.

The shape and size of a speculum varies, depending on where the device is designed to be used. Some have blades that allow the instrument to be inserted and then opened to hold a cavity open, as seen with speculums designed for the mouth, anus, and vagina. For examination of the ears and eyes, the speculum takes the form of a small cone that allows the care provider to focus a bright light on the area of interest for close examination.

With a disposable speculum, the doctor uses the instrument once and then discards it. Plastic is commonly used for these tools because it is relatively inexpensive, insert, and easy to work with. The speculum comes in sterile packaging to ensure that it is clean when it is used on a patient. The physician can also be assured that the speculum is not being reused by accident, as it should be provided in sealed packaging.

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Speculums designed for ear and eye inspections are usually designed to fit onto devices like otoscopes. The disposable speculum fits onto clips at the end and is changed between patients, while the otoscope is wiped down so that it can be reused. Since examinations of ears and eyes are common in clinical settings, it is not uncommon for a disposable speculum dispenser to be fitted onto the wall of an exam room so that clinicians can quickly access clean instruments when they need them. Sizes are varied for patients of different sizes and are clearly marked on the dispenser.

In the case of bladed speculums designed to hold body cavities open for examinations and procedures, the devices also come in a range of sizes and styles for different applications. One advantage of using a plastic disposable speculum is that people can visualize the sides of the body cavity through the clear plastic blades. This can allow clinicians to spot cellular changes and anatomical variations that might be hidden behind a reusable metal speculum.

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Discuss this Article

anon987287
Post 10

Metal speculums should never be used. There have been too many incidents (in the USA and the UK) where mistakes were made and the instruments weren't sterilized properly.

anon257859
Post 9

Are they supposed to be thrown away in a bio hazard bag or regular trash?

strawCake
Post 8

@sunnySkys - I don't know...I mean, if we ruin the environment, it's not going to matter if everyone has a healthy reproductive system! There must be some happy medium between going totally disposable and reusing some things.

Also, that article you mentioned is scary, but it sounds like that hospital had bigger problems. If they couldn't be bothered to sterilize instruments they knew they were supposed to, who knows what else they were doing wrong? I bet most practices adhere to proper sterilization techniques and would probably be fine using instruments that aren't disposable.

sunnySkys
Post 7

@ElizaBennett - I'm sorry, but I think the safety of women should come first, before worrying about the environmental impact of using a disposable vagina speculum. There are a lot of other things that have a negative impact on the environment that don't have a positive affect on women-but this does.

I read a horrifying article a few months ago about a hospital that was found to be reusing their pelvic exam speculums without sanitizing them first. A staggering amount of women were affected and had to go to their regular doctors to get checked for STIs and other infections.

If that hospital was using disposable speculums, they wouldn't have had that problem.

honeybees
Post 6

I think it is unusual if most clinics and doctors offices don't use disposable speculums.

Every time I visit the doctor, they take my temperature, check my ears and use a tongue depressor to check my throat.

These are all done with disposable instruments. When they are finished using them, they are immediately thrown away.

If you were practicing as a doctor before these disposable instruments became so popular, I am sure this was a welcome transition for them.

Are there very many places that don't use disposable speculums anymore?

John57
Post 5

I have noticed my doctor using more disposable instruments all the time. For years now they have been using the disposable thermometers. I can imagine how much time this saves and is so much more sanitary for everyone.

I also feel much better when she uses disposable vaginal speculums when giving her female exams.

This way you don't have to worry about the speculum being clean and sanitized. Just thinking about getting the exam done is worry enough for me.

seag47
Post 4

I'm glad to hear that most doctors use disposable speculums. Things like bacterial infections and colds could be easily spread by reusable instruments.

My doctor looks in my ears with a speculum whenever I have a sinus infection. I would hate to think that there was a chance of someone else's ear wax getting put into my ear, along with their bacteria.

I realize this creates extra garbage, but it is worth it. Better to have more trash than to spread infections among the population. Environmentalists will likely see it differently, but I am a germaphobe, and this is how I look at it.

StarJo
Post 3

My doctor uses a disposable vaginal speculum, and I am glad. The thought of one being reused is horrifying to me.

I always see the speculum wrapped in plastic and sitting on the counter before she uses it. She somehow plugs it into an electrical outlet to heat it up. This keeps my muscles from tensing so much when she inserts it, and that makes it easier for her to push it on in the cavity.

The insertion is not the really uncomfortable part. That comes when she opens up the speculum. It stretches the cavity out, and it just feels very strange and wrong.

I would wait and have the exam done every three years, but I have a good reason for having it done yearly. My doctor will not renew my prescription for birth control unless I see her once a year.

ElizaBennett
Post 2

@dfoster85 - It was probably disposable; I think that plastic vaginal specula are always disposable. (Not totally sure.) Which does, of course, raise the issue of environmental impact. Some practices are shifting away from the use of disposable specula because of the waste involved in throwing away a speculum and its packaging after every exam, not to mention the cost of shipping them. They are returning to the using sterilizable metal specula, which are completely safe.

Women who hate having Pap smears - and who doesn't? - can minimize them by considering ACOG's (American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologist's) recommendations. Women who have consistently had normal Paps do not need to have one every year! It's a waste of medical dollars. Many doctors are accustomed to doing them every year, though, so it may take some negotiating to get your doc to keep you as a patient without being required to have an annual Pap test.

dfoster85
Post 1

I'm not sure if it was disposable or washable plastic, but I did have a doctor once who uses a plastic vaginal speculum. The big advantage of these over metal ones is that they are much more lightweight. Women who typically experience pain during a pelvic exam might benefit from a doctor who uses a plastic or disposable vaginal speculum rather than a metal one.

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