Smartphone app 'hears' pediatric ear infections

A system using the speaker and microphone of a smartphone and a handmade paper funnel could be a more effective tool for diagnosing ear infections than a traditional otoscope, according to a study published this week in Science Translational Medicine.

Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle developed the system. The app produces a series of soft chirps, which travel through a child's ear through the small paper cone. When the chirps reverberate back to the smartphone's microphone, the system's algorithm analyzes the echoes for signs of fluid in the middle ear.

According to the study, the system was able to identify the presence of fluid in children aged 9 months to 17 years old with similar or higher levels of accuracy compared to traditional methods. Those methods require physicians and costly equipment, while the smartphone system requires no specialized hardware and, per the study, could be performed just as accurately by parents as trained pediatricians.

The researchers are now pursuing FDA approval for the tool, and have launched Edus Health, a spinout company, to manage the app's commercialization.

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