What Are the Differences between an Ophthalmoscope and Otoscope?

Nya Bruce
Nya Bruce
Otoscopes help doctors see inside ears.
Otoscopes help doctors see inside ears.

Both the ophthalmoscope and otoscope are instruments that give a medical professional a limited view inside of the body. They are noninvasive instruments that use a combination of light and magnifying lenses to peer into specific openings. The difference between an ophthalmoscope and otoscope lies primarily in the part of the body they are used to look into, as well as in their appearance and the number of types of each instrument.

Commonly used by ear, nose and throat doctors, the otoscope has a bright light and magnifying glass, allowing a look deep inside the ears.
Commonly used by ear, nose and throat doctors, the otoscope has a bright light and magnifying glass, allowing a look deep inside the ears.

The ophthalmoscope is an instrument that an ophthalmologist or general physician uses for the specific purpose of checking eyes for disease or other disorders. It shines a light through the patient's pupil and allows the practitioner to view the interior back of the eye, which is called the fundus. The doctor is then able to examine the parts that make up the fundus, including the retina, macula and optic disc. This is done as a part of a routine eye exam, during a physical examination or whenever there is a concern regarding the health of the eye. For the best view, the patient's pupil might require dilation.

To get the best view using an ophthalmoscope, the patient's pupil may needed to be dilated.
To get the best view using an ophthalmoscope, the patient's pupil may needed to be dilated.

An otoscope, also known as an auriscope, is a type of medical instrument that a healthcare professional uses to examine the inside of a patient's ears. This is done as part of physical examinations and whenever there is a concern regarding hearing or ear health in general. In addition to examining ears, this device is frequently used for checking the nose and mouth. This is one of the main differences between an ophthalmoscope and otoscope, because the former is used for one purpose only, which is examining the eyes.

Many modern ophthalmoscopes are built into multi-purpose eye exam devices.
Many modern ophthalmoscopes are built into multi-purpose eye exam devices.

Appearance is another difference between an ophthalmoscope and otoscope. The head of the ophthalmoscope is flat on both sides of the instrument and is not designed to come into contact with the eye. With the otoscope, the instrument has a cone-shaped tip that protrudes slightly on the side facing the patient and is inserted slightly into the patient's ear. For hygiene purposes, a disposable speculum covers the otoscope's tip during the examination.

An ophthalmoscope can be used to help gauge a patient's level of distorted vision.
An ophthalmoscope can be used to help gauge a patient's level of distorted vision.

Although both the ophthalmoscope and otoscope are available as a hand-held device similar in size to a flashlight, there is an additional type of ophthalmoscope that is worn on the physician's head. This instrument is called an indirect ophthalmoscope, and it allows the physician to check the fundus while using a separate lens. The image that is seen while using the indirect ophthalmoscope is wider and gives a better view than the hand-held device, which is called a direct ophthalmoscope. Although there is only one basic type of otoscope, there is a version that is available for at-home usage for the purpose of checking ears. This device differs from an ophthalmoscope that is available only for professional use.

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    • Otoscopes help doctors see inside ears.
      Otoscopes help doctors see inside ears.
    • Commonly used by ear, nose and throat doctors, the otoscope has a bright light and magnifying glass, allowing a look deep inside the ears.
      Commonly used by ear, nose and throat doctors, the otoscope has a bright light and magnifying glass, allowing a look deep inside the ears.
    • To get the best view using an ophthalmoscope, the patient's pupil may needed to be dilated.
      To get the best view using an ophthalmoscope, the patient's pupil may needed to be dilated.
    • Many modern ophthalmoscopes are built into multi-purpose eye exam devices.
      Many modern ophthalmoscopes are built into multi-purpose eye exam devices.
    • An ophthalmoscope can be used to help gauge a patient's level of distorted vision.
      An ophthalmoscope can be used to help gauge a patient's level of distorted vision.