December 03, 2014

Are OTC Otoscopes Any Good? (Dr. Mom Pocket Otoscope, etc)

So I was hanging out at Walgreens one day and noticed that there are several models of otoscopes for sale in the pharmacy aisle. The cost of one ran anywhere from $25 to as much as $50 which is quite cheap compared to the "doctor" model which typically is a Welch Allyn and costs several hundred dollars.

I was curious to see how good or bad these OTC otoscope models are compared to the Welch Allyn otoscope I use. Here are the models I decided to use for comparison (as seen on

Using a standardized tiny print "C E" sticker, I checked out these models and took a picture of the image as shown below:

Dr. Mom Slimline Pocket Otoscope (3rd Generation)

Professional Diagnostic Otoscope Kit

Welch Allyn Otoscope

Overall, the images can be seen clearly and when I tried it out on a human being, the eardrum can also be similarly be assessed.

However, there were two main factors that make the Welch Allyn the superior otoscope compared to the much cheaper OTC models.

The viewing window is MUCH larger on the Welch Allyn allowing one to see into the "corners" of the ear canal that one would have to physically manipulate with the other models. Check out the picture showing the viewing windows side-by-side. #1 is the Dr. Mom, #2 is the Pro Kit, and #3 is the Welch Allyn.

The second factor that makes the Welch Allyn superior is the MUCH greater distance where the image (eardrum) remains in focus.  The Welch Allyn can maintain a focus on the eardrum from 3cm away whereas the OTC models is half that (1.5cm). Why is that important?

It's because not all ear canals are the same size and length. So when one inserts the otoscope into the ear, the OTC models MUST be within 1.5cm of the eardrum (you have to stick the otoscope far enough into the ear canal such that the tip is within 1.5cm from the eardrum) otherwise, the image will be blurry. Some patients may not tolerate the otoscope being inserted that far into the ear canal.

With the Welch Allyn, the eardrum can immediately be seen and in focus from 3cm away from the eardrum (you don't have to stick the otoscope as far into the ear canal in order to see the eardrum clearly in focus).

So there you have it...

The OTC models can be used successfully with an image as good as the Welch Allyn model as long as two factors are met.
  1. You MUST insert the otoscope far enough into the ear such that the tip is at least within 1.5cm from the eardrum.
  2. Due to the smaller viewing window, you have to have the otoscope precisely over the eardrum.
Regardless, overall when taking into consideration the price, the OTC otoscope models are excellent buys and essentially "does the job."

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.


Unknown said...

Total nonsense. the eardrum is 3/4 inches away in a child and 1 inch in an adult. Considering you would stick the otoscope into the ear approximately 1/4 inch the focal length should be around 1/2 to 3/4 away according to whether or not you were looking in a child's ear or an adult.All of the otoscopes have exactly the same focal length lens. How do I know this? Because we used the Welch Allyn Lens as our prototype when figuring out the magnifying strength and focal length for the Doctor Mom Otoscope. The things this guy has written is absolute and total nonsense about the W/A otoscope having twice the focal length. If it did you would be holding it outside the ear to get a clear look inside totally negating the purpose of the specula in the first place to guide light down an angled ear canal.

InformedDecider said...

Really Dr. Mom dude? Now I understand what one Amazon reviewer was referring to when he mentions your company's agressive sales tatics.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

It is common sense to know that if you have an otoscope that has twice the focal length as another then you will have to be twice as far away from the eardrum to gt a clear focus.You can see the reviews on the dr Mom Otoscopes to know how well they work. They are the highest rated otoscopes on Amazon with a higher rating than Welch Allyn. This should tell you something about the accuracy of the Dr Mom focal length.The diameter of the specula tip is what limits what you see inside a ear and not the diameter of the lens. Common sense should tell you that as well. This review is total nonsense done by someone who is selling W/A otoscopes.

Parent/RN said...

Sally Jenkins, you sound like you work for Dr mom just like the above 'unknown' commentor. I am a parent who appreciated this review, however, I already knew Welch Allyn otoscopes were superior.

Did either of you pro-Dr mom commenters even read the full review? It is clearly stated that the OTC otoscopes "can be used successfully" and "does the job" - they don't sound like they're trying to persuade readers to purchase "W/A".

Readers - these OTC otoscopes are handy to check yourself, but you still need to see a Dr or NP if you are concerned. These are more for use for peace-of-mind.

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