The Brief History of the Otoscope

Though the word may seem unfamiliar to some, but an otoscope device has been used nearly every day somewhere in the world for the last 650 years! An otoscope facilitates examination of the ear canal and tympanic membrane. From the color, shape and general appearance, a doctor can assess abnormalities by peeking through a viewing window.


The device was first described and illustrated in France in 1363 by Guy de Chauliac. Its primary use included the examination of aural and nasal passages. Because of the similar problems posed by inspecting conical cavities, early otoscopy and rhinoscopy instruments were similar in design.

In Italy in 1838, Ignaz Gruber invented the first funnel-shapped speculum, although he didn’t publish his findings. In Germany in 1864, E. Siegle invented a pneumatic otoscope, a model that allows the user to administer air pressure.

Pneumatic Otoscope illustration

Many otoscopes used in doctors offices today are wall-mounted, attached by a flexible power cord to a base, which serves to hold the otoscope when it’s not in use and also serves as a source of electric power, being plugged into an electric outlet. Portable models are powered by batteries in the handle; these batteries are usually rechargeable and can be recharged from a base unit.

Smartphone-enabled otoscopes are the newest advance in otoscopy.
CellScope Oto
The CellScope Oto harnesses the light of the iPhone camera to enable assessment of the outer and middle ear. An app allows users to visualize, record, store and compare images and videos of the ear canal and tympanic membrane.

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