Scientists develop smartphone app to detect ear infections

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inside ear
Internal structure of ear (Credits - Flickr/Dan Century)

As per the National Institutes of Health, the most common reason that parents take children to a paediatrician is an ear infection. It happens when there is a build up of fluids in the middle ear which is situated behind the eardrum. This also occurs in another condition known as otitis media with effusion (OME). Ear infections are always painful as it causes difficulty for children to hear and overall uneasiness. It can be harmful in their efforts in learning to talk.

However, the conditions are quite hard to be diagnosed as these symptoms are vague. Scientists from the University of Washington have developed an app which has the ability to detect fluids situated behind the eardrum with the help of paper, the microphone and speaker of a cellphone.

The phone creates a series of audible sounds inside the ear with the help of a paper funnel. And based on the way the reflection of chirps occurs back to the phone, the app detects the probability of fluid being present with accuracy upto 85%. This is in tune with the present techniques which are used by doctors who detect if the fluid is present or not.

The results have been published in the journal Science Translational MedicineShyam Gollakota, professor of Computer Science who is also the author of this study commented that this design with the help of smartphone can bring a great change in the ways healthcare operates in the small regions. The main advantage of this technique is that it does not need any other equipment other than a piece of paper and software running on the smartphone.

After diagnosis, the infections in the ear can be treated with medicines and the fluids can be monitored by physicians so that the symptoms can be reduced. A patient can be very easily treated at home and then a proper decision can be taken whether to approach a doctor or not.

The functioning of the app is that it sends sound signals inside the ear and then change in the sound waves occur as they bounce off after striking the eardrum. If there is fluid present in the ear, then sound waves which get reflected interfere in a different way with the original sounds.

Justin Chan, who is presently a doctoral student and also an author of the paper remarked that the process is similar to tapping a wine glass, With the difference in the level of wine, different types of sounds are obtained.

Let us hope that this app will help people to diagnose ear infections early and act upon it.

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