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Using a speculum to examine a child's ear.

Using a speculum to examine a child's ear.

Credits:N. Durrell McKenna, Wellcome Images.

A speculum, from the Latin word for "mirror", is an instrument that is used in medical diagnosis to see inside the body. The speculum is a metal instrument which is inserted into orifices (ear, nose, vagina or anus) to widen them so that a doctor can see inside the body or take tissue samples. Vaginal and anal speculums were already in use during Roman times; examples made from bronze were found among the remains of the ancient city of Pompeii.

Around the year 1000, the Muslim surgeon Al-Zahrawi ( known in Europe as Albucasis), who lived in Muslim Spain, developed improved forms of speculums which he described and depicted in a book on surgical instruments. Since 1800, many doctors have adapted the speculum for specific uses in their own ways, and they now come in a variety of forms – tube-shaped, or with one, two, or three blades. Since the twentieth century, some medical practices and emergency rooms have replaced metal speculums which need disinfection after use with disposable ones made from plastic.



F Ramen, Albucasis (Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi): renowned Muslim surgeon of the tenth century (New York: Rosen, 2006)