A plastic speculum is a device used by health care professionals when examining or treating a body cavity. The speculum is used to keep the cavity open while the health care professional works. A speculum is perhaps most commonly recognized for its use in vaginal or pelvic exams, but rectal, eye, and nasal specula are also used. While specula were traditionally constructed out of metal, the plastic speculum has become more common. The use of the plastic speculum has become more popular as concern about spreading infection has grown.
The vaginal speculum is commonly used to hold the walls of the vagina apart so that a doctor or medical professional can examine the inside of a woman's vagina as well as her cervix. The speculum also enables the medical professional to take a pap smear or perform surgery. For some women, a plastic speculum has both positive and negative aspects. Women have complained that the insertion of a plastic speculum is less comfortable than that of a metal speculum. On the other hand, plastic specula are less likely to cause discomfort due to being cold. While some doctors will warm a metal speculum by running warm water over it, this can sometimes result in a speculum that is uncomfortably warm.
In addition to its use in doctor's office, the plastic vaginal speculum is easily purchased by women from feminist health centers as well as online sources. Many women choose to use the speculum, along with a flashlight and a mirror, to view their own cervix at home. Women do this as a way of supplementing regular medical care and monitoring so that they can better know their own bodies and keep an eye out for any changes that may indicate infection or disease.
Plastic specula may also be used for other types of examinations. While a vaginal speculum is often used to perform rectal procedures, specialized anal specula exist. Eye care professionals may rely on an eye speculum to keep the eye open during exams and surgery, just as an ear doctor might use an aural speculum. Veterinarians typically use a mouth speculum to hold an animal's mouth open during an examination.
While some have expressed concern about the environmental impact of disposable, plastic specula, the ability of medical offices to properly sterilize their collections of specular remains a concern. The plastic speculum allows medical professionals to conduct exams in which the instrument comes into contact with mucus membranes and possibly blood without concern for infecting another patient by using the same instrument. Some hospitals, however, continue to use metal specula, as they are better equipped for the ongoing sterilization of large amounts of medical equipment.