Diagnosing an Ear Infection
When diagnosing an ear infection, the doctor will ask about the patient's personal and family medical history, and examine the patient's ear to see if there is any inflammation of the eardrum. The doctor may also recommend additional tests that examine the ear or hearing. One of these tests used to make an ear infection diagnosis is called tympanometry.
If a person has possible ear infection symptoms, the doctor will usually perform a physical exam and ask about the patient's personal and family medical history. In order to help make an ear infection diagnosis, the doctor may also recommend additional tests that examine the ear or hearing.
The simplest way to detect an active infection in the middle ear is to look in the patient's ear with an otoscope (a light instrument that allows the physician to examine the outer ear and the eardrum). Inflammation of the eardrum indicates an infection.
There are several ways that a physician checks for middle ear fluid. The use of a special type of otoscope, called a pneumatic otoscope, allows the physician to blow a puff of air onto the eardrum to test eardrum movement. (An eardrum with fluid behind it does not move as well as an eardrum with air behind it.)
A useful test of middle ear function is called tympanometry. This test requires insertion of a small, soft plug into the opening of the patient's ear canal. The plug contains a speaker, a microphone, and a device that is able to change the air pressure in the ear canal, allowing for several measures of the middle ear. The patient feels air pressure changes in the ear or hears a few brief tones. While this test provides information on the condition of the middle ear, it does not determine how well the patient hears.
A physician may suggest a hearing test for a child who has frequent ear infections, to determine the extent of hearing loss. The hearing test is usually performed by an audiologist (a person who is specially trained to measure hearing).