The History of the Otoscope
The first known description of the ear speculum can be traced back to French physician and surgeon Guy de Chauliac, who described a vision for the device in Montpellier, France in 1363. However, models of the device weren’t developed until German Surgeon Wilhelm Fabry and Medical Device Salesman J.J. Perret created prototypes in the mid-1600s and late 1700s, respectively. The earliest otoscopes were shaped like a pair of tongs, similar to today’s nasal speculums.
But the modern otoscope really begins in Germany in the middle of the 19th century. During that period, German Otologist Wilhelm Kramer developed a steel aural speculum with a distinct funnel shape that expanded when the two handles were separated. The doctor lent his name to the device, and it became known as Kramer’s Speculum. Doctors throughout the 1800s iterated on the funnel-shaped otoscope. Most notably, Austrian practitioner Ignaz Gruber made the first funnel-shaped speculum out of metal in 1838.
Gruber’s speculum was famous for its simple, conical shape and the fact that it couldn’t be separated like the tong-shaped styles that came before. The styles that are most similar to those in practice today were developed by A. Hartmann in Berlin in 1881. A standard Welch Allyn otoscope that you might see in any medical environment today owes much of its shape and design to Hartmann. This bell-shaped style is known as the Hartmann Speculum.
Today, as with everything in the medical realm, the otoscope is much more high-tech, compact and lightweight than it once was. Modern-day styles may be equipped with corrective lenses for the best optics, bright lights, adjustable focus and extremely enhanced magnifiers. In fact, some of the top otoscopes offer a nearly complete view of the tympanic membrane and have 30 percent more magnification than traditional styles. We’ve come a long way, baby!