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If you’re looking to buy a stethoscope for the first time, chances are that you don’t know much about them. The key to making a smart choice is to have basic knowledge about stethoscopes, stethoscope parts, and types of stethoscopes. So, where can you start?
This guide will illustrate the stethoscope anatomy, and help you understand the different components of a stethoscope.
Stethoscopes 101: A Quick Guide to Understanding Key Stethoscope Parts
The anatomy of a stethoscope comprises a curved or flat chest piece, covered by a thin film called a diaphragm.
When sound vibrations reach the diaphragm, it is amplified and transmitted through a sealed hollow tubing into the earpieces and to the user’s ears. A good stethoscope should be able to pick up sounds and transmit them without missing vital details.
The first stethoscope was invented by a French physician Rene Laennec in the early 19th century. His invention originally was to help him achieve doctor-patient distance to avoid pressing his face against his patients’ bodies.
However, there have been modern twists on the traditional stethoscope. Modern stethoscopes include noise-canceling elements in the earpiece, a tunable diaphragm, and electronics in the chest piece to record sound as digital files.
How does a stethoscope work?
A stethoscope is used to pick up sounds. Sound is a disturbance in air pressure, and it travels in waves. The fluctuation of pressure variations can cause our eardrums to vibrate, and our brain will interpret the vibrations as noise.
Doctors and nurses use a stethoscope on a patient’s chest, back, or stomach to listen to the sound waves traveling from a patient’s body. They use the device to observe the breath and heartbeat of patients to help them diagnose an illness or condition.
Parts of a Stethoscope
A stethoscope is a vital tool for any healthcare professional. It comes in different types, meant for different needs. There are even brands that offer customization options to ensure your stethoscope matches your personality.
Stethoscope parts include ear tips, binaurals, brace, tubing, stem, chest piece, bell, and diaphragm. Read on to learn the functions of each component.
The headset is the upper half part of a stethoscope that hangs on the neck of a healthcare professional.
It includes ear tips, binaurals, lumen tubing, and the brace. All these components work together to offer quality sound transfer and provide comfort in the user’s ears.
The ear tubes should hang back slightly, and the ear tips pointed facing the user’s nose to minimize disturbance for sound to flow smoothly into the ears. You can read more about this in our article about How to use a Stethoscope for beginners.
Ear tips allow sounds to reach inside the user’s ear efficiently and effectively. It comprises silicone or rubber material for a form-fitting seal to take essential readings without experiencing any discomfort.
The seal assists in blocking out external noises when listening to sounds from a patient body, lungs, and heart.
High-quality ear tips in a stethoscope help to capture bodily sounds without leaking out. It means that you get to avoid external noises that would otherwise affect the user’s listening experience.
Modern ear tips are flexible and soft materials to cradle and fit in the inner ears comfortably.
Binaurals (Ear tubes)
The ear tubes are the metal or steel components of a stethoscope that connect the ear tips and the lumen tubing.
Their primary function is to transfer and isolate sound that gets to the user’s ears from the chest piece. High-quality ear tubes come with an acoustic design to provide comfort and minimal sound quality loss with a proper angle suitable for the ear canals.
For exceptional sound quality, ear tubes should come with right and left channels to help users diagnose a medical issue or condition quickly. They come in different sizes, sized for different ears.
The brace is the part of the stethoscope that helps hold the lumen tubing in two directions.
This can be molded into the tubing or a metal or plastic piece that holds the tubing.
The tubing is a part of a stethoscope that relays and transfers sounds or frequencies picked up by the chest piece to the headset. The tubing connects the stethoscope diaphragm to the ear tips. It can be made of metal, plastic, or rubber.
Stethoscope tubing comes in two general types: dual-tube and single lumen.
The dual-tube design is split into two inside one outer tube, providing two sound channels for accuracy.
The single lumen design comes with a single tube connected to the chest piece.
Modern tubing can withstand alcohol and skin oils, making them long-lasting and easy to clean. Tubing design is determined by the stethoscope design, chest piece, headset, and the manufacturer.
The stem connects the chest piece to the tubing. It is made of steel or metal material to provide a secure link for maximum performance. It is a part that helps users to switch and click between the diaphragm and the bell by rotating the chest piece.
You can determine if the bell or diaphragm directs sound effectively to the ear tubes by turning the chest piece.
The stem makes it easy for users to disconnect the chest piece when repair or interchange is needed. Replacing damaged components is crucial for healthcare providers to attach an alternative part to access a patient’s condition.
The chest piece also referred to as the head, is an integral part of a stethoscope that detects, captures, and transfers sound to the headset. It is the part placed against the skin of a patient.
Thanks to technological advancements, some stethoscopes conduct sounds through bandages, clothing, animal fur, and even blankets.
Depending on the model, stethoscopes can either have a one-sided or a two-sided chest piece:
- One-sided chest pieces come with only a diaphragm. Some have pressure-sensitive or tunable diaphragms that act as a diaphragm and a bell.
- Two-sided chest pieces have a diaphragm on one side and a bell on the other side when flipped over.
The chest piece is attached to the lumen tubing by the bell, diaphragm, and stem connection.
The stethoscope diaphragm is the large circular end of the chest piece. It helps medical professionals to focus on wider areas of the body.
Healthcare specialists, doctors, and nurses use this part to monitor the vitals of adults. It is designed to detect and monitor sound with higher frequencies.
Some diaphragms have a non-chill design to prevent a cold reaction or discomfort when the device is in direct contact with the skin. The non-chill rim also has protective materials to prevent an allergic reaction for those with sensitive skin.
The stethoscope bell is the small circular end of the chest piece. It’s more restricted to lower frequency sounds compared to the diaphragm because it has a smaller diameter.
Its primary function is to listen to the vitals of pediatric patients and infants. It is also suitable for dealing with carotid or bandaged areas.
It is used to detect, monitor, and observe the sounds of small bodies. The bell or pediatric side comes with a hypoallergenic and non-chill design for comfort during listening sessions.
Is One Kind Better Than Another?
There is no specific stethoscope that is the best for everyone. Different factors determine the choice you make.
Here are some things to consider depending on your vocation:
- A nurse or a doctor may work in the same hospital but use different stethoscope anatomy for different needs.
- Veterinarians, paramedics, and ER Nurses often prefer stethoscopes that offer noise reduction, because they are typically in louder environments.
- Nurses and medical students find a single stethoscope good enough for many situations.
- A Duo telescope is ideal for veterinarians, emergency care and family care professionals, and primary care physicians.
- An extended-length stethoscope is excellent for professionals who treat large animals or large patients to get to hard-to-reach areas while maintaining the patient’s space.
So, the type of stethoscope that will be best for you is ultimately determined by the kinds of situations and patients you expect to be deal with. It is advisable to evaluate your profession or field when making your selection.
Now that you know the different stethoscope parts, you are better suited to make your choice. If you want to read more about which stethoscopes will be best for your specialty, check out our Ultimate Stethoscopes Buying Guide.
Remember to always buy a stethoscope from reputable suppliers, to get high-quality equipment that will meet your requirements.
If you are still in med school, you might be interested in our guide to the Top 10 Affordable Stethoscope for Students!
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