A stethoscope can be typically found in any hospital or medical facility. However, many people do not understand what it is or how it works, prompting the question, what does a stethoscope do? As both a medical expert, this device may sound small and easy to use, but it is important to find time and learn how to use it. A stethoscope has various parts to it which are vital. Learning how to use this device properly will enable you know how each part works and their purpose on the device itself. Luckily, all the knowledge pertaining this device is given during training of all medical practitioners. In this article we highlight what really is a stethoscope and give details on how to use it.
What is a Stethoscope?
A stethoscope is a medical device used for listening to sounds produced by the body and organs like the lungs and heart. This device was first invented in 1819, by a Frenchman, René Laennec. He described the first stethoscope as a wooden cylinder that transmits sound from the body to the ear of the physician. This led to further developing of newer and better designs of stethoscopes by Dr. David Littman in Harvard University. The current one is lighter and easily portable.
Auscultation is the term used to refer to the act of listening to the sounds by the use of this device. A stethoscope can either have an open ended chest piece or a bell shaped form. These two are good at conveying low sounds like the heart sound. On the other hand, usually the flat piece is better in conveying high sounds. Other than a chest piece, a stethoscope has different parts that enable it work efficiently.
A chest piece is usually a round, two sided module that contains the diaphragm and the bell. On this piece, the diaphragm is the bigger side of the chest piece while the bell is the other smaller part of this piece.
This is the tubing that runs from the chest piece to the headset. Sound is transmitted through this tube and usually measures from 18 inches to 25 inches in length.
The headset joins from the tube to finish with the earpiece. Sound reaches the headset before being released to the earpieces.
Sound from the chest piece is delivered to the earpiece for hearing. Also known as the ear tips, they are small tips that are placed in the ear for hearing, just like earphones used in listening to music. This piece is fitted with rubber tips to help block noise from outside. This enables the medical practitioner pick the correct sound from the body organ intended.
How Does a Stethoscope Work?
As stated earlier, a stethoscope is used to listen for sounds. When a medical practitioner places the diaphragm or chest piece on the body, sound waves produced in the patient’s body enable the diaphragm to vibrate and send the same sound to the ear tips with the assistance of the tubing. During the travel of the sound towards the ear tips, a process known as multiple reflection occurs. It involves bouncing of the sound waves in the rubber tubes towards the Y- shaped headset.
The pitches of sound travel at high frequencies. These frequencies press the bell causing it to vibrate and bounce the same sound upwards the tube. This means, for instance, the same sounds produced by the heart or lungs are exactly the same sounds the doctor or practitioner hear, no alteration whatsoever. However the bell picks the sound directly from the skin, meaning whatever the skin gives is what the bell will receive and direct to the tube.
The vibrations going through the chest piece are channeled into a narrow tubing, meaning the sounds will have to be amplified.
How to Wear a Stethoscope
To wear a stethoscope correctly, you should place the earpieces inside your ears slightly facing upwards. This will ensure that you block any noise coming from outside and within the room you are in. If this device is not worn correctly, noise might interfere with your listening which might lead to wrong diagnosis.
Moreover, holding of this device also counts. A stethoscope must be held between your index and middle finger, using your dominant hand. This enables a gentle touch on the patient and less sound production by the fingers that could hinder your reading.
Uses of a Stethoscope
A stethoscope has various uses in the medical field and can be used to diagnose several abnormalities. The following are some:
- Valve breakage – Using a stethoscope can help read a broken or leaking valve in the human body.
- Blocked valve or artery – This device can also help diagnose a blocked artery through listening to the blood flow.
- Measure blood – This is by far the most common use of the stethoscope in the medical field.
- Evaluating lung sounds and Heart sounds.
- Evaluating of the liver span and bowel movements.
Types of Stethoscope:
There are different types of stethoscope which have different abilities in the medical field while some are made with different kind of materials. Here are some of the types:
This is an electronic stethoscope that measure Doppler Effect of the ultrasounds waves from a body organ. This type is essential for moving bits such as the heart and auscultating even the lowest sounds possible. It is also regarded as one of the best cardiology stethoscope in the medical field.
Sound transmission with this type is enabled by air-filled hollow tubing straight to the earpiece. When the diaphragm is placed on the patient’s body or skin, waves in form of acoustic pressure are released up the earpiece, hence the name acoustic.
This type is also known as a stethophone. It involves amplifying of the sounds produced by the organ being listened to. This amplifying is supported electronically hence the name electronic. This kind of stethoscope is essential for low sounds. This is one of the best stethoscope in use today.
Generally, before asking yourself what a stethoscope does, it is important to know some of the common mistakes done while using this device. Wearing the device correctly will help avoid mistakes in listening and diagnosis. It is also important to note that the stethoscope should be used directly to the patient’s skin for better reading. Using it with cloths on might hinder the sound.
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