A stethoscope is the basic acoustic medical device for listening to internal body sounds (auscultation). Without it, a doctor might not be able to correctly give a diagnosis.
The medical world is already too complex as it is. Every physician needs a good tool at hand to maneuvre through the everyday medical challenges and avoid some stresses and frustrations. Although very basic, the design, make and features of a stethoscope will determine how efficiently and effortlessly the doctor will be able to use it.
A pediatric stethoscope has special features useful for medical examination of minors and young children. Because infants are really delicate, the normal adult stethoscope cannot be used to examine their delicate bodies. Children and infants generally fear hospitals or anything that involves their bodies being examined by ‘’strange’’ objects. If you want your young patients to corporate and be at ease with you, choose a stethoscope that is child friendly.
The colors and chest piece are actually the main features that determine if the steth is fit for pediatric care.
Background of Stethoscopes
All stethoscopes are used to listen to amplified sounds from processes or organ body parts.
The word “stethos” is a Greek word meaing chest and “scopos” means examination. That’s where the word stethoscope comes from. This process of listening to the body sounds is also termed as auscultation. Body processes often checked by the scope include heartbeat or heart rhythm, presence of fluid in lungs, general sounds from lungs, intestinal sounds, among others. The stethoscope is sometimes referred to as a phonendoscope.
The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by Rene’ Laennec in a Paris hospital. His main aim was to enable male healthcare workers to study female body parts without the women feeling uncomfortable. Prior to the invention, the doctor would listen to the sounds of the body using unaided ear. This is called direct or immediate auscultation. Using a steth to amplify body sounds is referred to as mediate auscultation.
Primary steth models were simple wooden tubes which the doctor would place on one year to amplify the sounds. By early 1830s, improvements had been made to this primordial design.The old design was replaced with a double- earpiece, flexible-tube stethoscope.
The structure of the modern scope is of a flexible tube and a small disk at its end. There is a taut, mostly plastic, that covers the disk and reverberates when placed over the veins, heart, lungs, intestines or arteries. The seemingly airtight passage of the tube transmit the echoes to two earpieces that are connected to the tube. The earpieces are the ones that the physician places on the ears to listen to the sounds.
Sphygmomanometers used in measuring blood pressure also use stethoscopes.
Stethoscopes are not only used in the healthcare field. Professionals in automotive industry and in machine industries also use special types of stethoscopes to amplify sounds from mechanisms and engines.
How a Stethoscope Works
There are about eight basic parts in a regular non-electronic stethoscope. The materials used, style and look, accuracy and sensitivity of the acoustics, and manufacturer will help to distinguish different stethoscope models. These clear cut differences, in addition to packaging, customer service and warranty determine the price of a particular steth model.
The Chest Piece
This is the metal disk part (mostly stainless steel, zinc, titanium or aluminium) that you hold on top of the body part that you want to listen to. There are two integral parts of the scope held in place by the chest piece. These are the diaphragm and the chill ring.
This is the part of the chest piece that vibrates and sends echoes when the chest piece is placed on top of a body part. A stethoscope can have a two-sided chest piece or a single-sided one. For a two-sided chest piece, there is always a small cup end, called a bell, and a large flat diaphragm end that always snaps in place.
The Chill Ring
This is a ductile ring that stretches around the edges of the chest piece. It is the part that conforms to the patient’s body. Good quality stethoscopes have a chill-free ring that feel warm when placed on the bare body as opposed to bare metal.
This is the part that connects the chest piece to the ear piece tubing. It is made of an adjustable material, mostly rubber.
These are two tensile tubes that attach to the earpiece tubing. Some manufacturers make them with rubber while others are made of silicon, neoprene or PVC.
At the top of the acoustic tube, there is usually a thin, flexible metal. This is the part called a headset. Depending on the the scope, the headset can be adjusted to fit different size heads.
These begin at the terminal of the tensile acoustic tubes. Most often, they are made of metal although there are special brass plated designs.
The Ear Pieces/ Ear Tips
This is the part that you fit into your ears, often threaded onto the ends of the ear tubes. The ear tips may be made of different materials, from soft silicon to hard plastic. If you find it difficult to get ear tips that fit your ear canal, you can order custom made ones. However, most silicon ear tips are adjustable.
Difference Between Pediatric and Normal Stethoscopes
What is the difference between the pediatric stethoscope and the normal stethoscope?
A pediatric scope is not very different from the normal adult stethoscope. Here are the differences between the scopes:
- The chest piece
The contour and size of the chest piece usually distinguishes adult designed scopes from pediatric ones.
- The diaphragm
The diaphragm determines how strong the internal body sounds will echo for an enhanced listen. Stethoscopes designed for infant and pediatric use or have a dual-frequency or tuneable technology integrated into them. This technology enables doctors to listen to low frequency sounds like the faint heartbeat sounds by applying slight pressure on the chest piece.
- The bell
Double-sided chest pieces will have a bell. This is the part that you will use in pediatric examination.
- Shape and colour variety
Stethoscopes designed for infant use have an attractive color. Their shapes and colors are child friendly to set a good mood for children during examination. They are also attractive.
Tip: Examine the stethoscope packaging when searching for a good quality stethoscope. Excellent quality units will be packed in sturdy boxes. The may also be packed in an insulating material to secure the scope instead of a simple plastic bag.
Go for steths that have easy to read name tags that clip onto the tubes. Also, choose a design with brightly colored tubes or colourful paintings such as of animals on the chest piece. This will create an attachment and a trusting relationship between you and your young patient.
How to use a Pediatric Stethoscope
Using a stethoscope correctly will determine the type of results you will get when examining your patient. Your usages will determine how easy you can examine different sections of organs, for example the aortic, tricuspid and mitral parts of the heart.
An excellent acoustic stethoscope can detect even tiny sound variations or abnormalities in different body sounds. It can listen to extremely low frequency that can’t normally vibrate the diaphragm.
Low frequency sounds are a lot easier to detect with a bell than the diaphragm. This is because they usually vibrate the skin. When using a tuneable diaphragm, a light touch on the chest piece will enable you detect low frequencies while a more firm touch will enable detection of high frequencies.
To choose a good pediatric stethoscope, go for a model with airtight parts. The scope should fit perfectly in your ears and conform well to your patients’ body. This will ensure maximum accuracy from the device.
Paediatric auscultation stethoscopes have a small bell, about an inch, that conform firmly on your patient’s chest. This paediatric stethoscope design also makes the child feel comfortable even with their small body. The physician, on the other hand, will have more confidence due to the superior acoustics provided by the steth.
If you know what your ultimate goal is, then choosing the right pediatric stethoscope will not be a hustle. Only you can determine which stethoscope you are most comfortable with. Remember, the most important thing when examining a minor patient is making them comfortable during the examination and getting accurate results.
Infants and children can’t communicate changes in their health. So, choose a stethoscope that will do the talking for you.