University of Washington Researchers Create App that Can Detect Ear Infections

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University of Washington Researchers Create App that Can Detect Ear Infections
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, uses the app to check his daughter’s ear. - Credit: Dennis Wise/University of Washington via Washington.edu

Technology Has Helped Advance the Medical Industry and Health Information Platforms Like WebMD. More recently, researchers at the University of Washington have found a way to create an app that can detect fluid behind the eardrum to find signs of an ear infection. According to the National Institutes of Health, ear infections are one of the most common reasons a parent brings their child into a pediatrician. With this tool, the app uses the smartphone’s microphone and speaker and a piece of paper to see if a child has an ear infection.

“The smartphone makes a series of soft audible chirps into the ear through a small paper funnel and, depending on the way the chirps are reflected back to the phone, the app determines the likelihood of fluid present with a probability of detection of 85 percent,” The University of Washington reported. “This is on par with current methods used by specialists to detect fluid in the middle ear, which involve specialized tools that use acoustics or a puff of air.”

Ear infections occur when there is an infection of the middle ear, the air-filled space behind the eardrum which contains tiny vibrating bones of the ear, according to Mayo Clinic. Children are more likely to get ear infections than adults, and people who are prone to ear infections may experience hearing loss, Mayo Clinic reports.

“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 in an interview. “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.”

According to the findings of the study, ear infections are typically diagnosed with specialized equipment, detecting whether fluid is present in the middle ear. The study used the app on 98 pediatric patients to determine whether the child had an ear infection.

“The system could be operated by patient parents without formal medical training,” the study suggests. “This proof-of-concept screening tool could help aid in the diagnosis of ear infections.” Dr. Justin Golub, a Columbia University ear specialist who wasn’t involved in the study told the Associated Press that this technology could help patients avoid needless doctor visits.

According to the Associated Press, the system was able to detect fluid behind the ear as well or better than specialized testing devices.

“Examining ears is difficult,” and better tools are needed for doctors, too, said Dr. Alejandro Hoberman, pediatrics chief at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, who also wasn’t part of the research to the Associated Press.

With this new technology, parents will be able to determine if their child has an ear infection and take them into the doctor if it’s serious. Most of the time, ear infections go away with time, but serious infections may need to be treated with antibiotics, according to Mayo Clinic. This tool may help parents determine if a doctor’s visit is warranted for their child’s ear infection.

Sources: apnews.com, washington,edu, sciencemag.com

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