Researchers Create Smartphone App That Can 'Hear' Kid's Ear Infections

There is now an app to help detect your child's ear infection. According to the National Institute of Health, ear infections are the number one reason parents bring their child to the pediatrician. Any parent who has had a child with an ear infection knows just how painful and uncomfortable it can be and being able to quickly diagnose it and treat it is key, especially since younger children can't always articulate what hurts.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed an app that can make diagnosing an ear infection much easier. The app is able to detect if there is fluid behind the eardrum by using a piece of paper and the smartphone's microphone and speaker. The research, published in Science Translational Medicine, states that the smartphone will make a noise and the echo it provides is analyzed to determine if there is fluid behind the middle ear.  Science Daily writes that the paper is used to create a funnel near the ear and the phone is held next to it while it makes a series of noises. How that sound is reflected back help doctors determine if there is the presence of an infection with a high level of accuracy.

"Designing an accurate screening tool on something as ubiquitous as a smartphone can be game-changing for parents as well as health care providers in resource-limited regions," said co-author Shyam Gollakota, an associate professor in the UW's Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. "A key advantage of our technology is that it does not require any additional hardware other than a piece of paper and a software app running on the smartphone."

If an app like this were available to parents and doctors, not only would patients be able to receive treatment quicker, but parents could determine for themselves whether their child's symptoms require a trip to the doctor or monitoring at home. For those concerned that parents wouldn't be able to use the app themselves, the researchers tested that as well.

During the course of the study, researchers showed parents involved how to use the app at home and found that out of the 25 different ears tested, parents and doctors both identified the 6 children who had fluid present and together agreed on 18 of the 19 children who didn't have fluid in their ears.

"The ability to know how often and for how long fluid has been present could help us make the best management decisions with patients and parents," co-author Dr. Randall Bly, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the UW School of Medicine who practices at Seattle Children's Hospital said. "It also could help primary care providers know when to refer to a specialist."

While most parents would still consult a doctor if they were worried about a child's researchers are excited about this app and its ability to allow parents more ways to correctly asses whether they require a trip to the doctor or not.

"Fluid behind the eardrum is so common in children that there's a direct need for an accessible and accurate screening tool that can be used at home or clinical settings," co-first author Dr. Sharat Raju, a surgical resident in otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the UW School of Medicine said. "If parents could use a piece of hardware they already have to do a quick physical exam that can say 'Your child most likely doesn't have ear fluid' or 'Your child likely has ear fluid, you should make an appointment with your pediatrician,' that would be huge."

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