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What Is a Head Mirror?

By Rebecca Harkin
Updated: May 17, 2024

A head mirror is an adjustable, concave mirror with a central opening and a securing head strap. This device is used as a light gathering and focusing tool during medical exams. The inwardly beveled mirror concentrates light and aims it directly onto an object in direct line of sight with the examiner’s eye. Primarily helpful for lighting dark orifices such as the ears, nose, and throat, the head mirror is most often used by an otolaryngologist, or a doctor specializing in these areas. The head mirror has become a symbol of the medical profession, much like the white lab coat and the stethoscope.

Inspecting the dark cavities of a patient during a medical exam can be difficult. This is mainly because the doctor’s head can create shadows or completely block the light source when the light source is aimed directly at the spot being examined, making it too dim to see. The head mirror provides a solution to this problem. When this medical device is utilized, the light source can be placed next to the patient and the specialized mirror will reflect the light back onto the object being examined without the doctor blocking the light path.

During an exam, the doctor and patient sit facing one another with their knees in a line and the light source aimed at the doctor from the left side of the patient. The mirror is strapped onto the doctor’s head with the central hole in the mirror positioned over one eye, typically the right eye. Adjustments are made by tilting and rotating the mirror so that it will maximally gather and reflect the light source onto the object which needs to be examined. The focused light is beamed onto the object in direct line with the eye at the center of the opening in the head mirror. Slight movements of the doctor’s head can move the focused light where it is needed inside a cavity.

Along with the white lab coat and the stethoscope, the head mirror has become a classic symbol of the medical profession. This seems like an odd lasting symbol since this device is now typically only used by otolaryngologists, and most contemporary patients have probably never seen one in person, let alone be examined with one during a medical exam. A hundred years ago medicine was not as specialized as it is today, and the head mirror was a tool frequently relied on for diagnosis.

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