The most common reason that parents bring their children to
a pediatrician, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are due
to ear infections.
This unpleasant condition occurs when there is a buildup of
fluid in the middle ear, behind the eardrum, and it becomes infected. Any kind
of fluid buildup can be painful for children and makes it harder for them to hear,
which can be detrimental when they are learning to communicate.
This condition is hard to diagnose because of the vague
symptoms, such as children tugging on their ears or a fever, or sometimes there
are no symptoms at all. An additional difficulty is that young children may not
be able to describe where the pain is coming from.
Researchers at the University of Washington have created a
new smartphone app that can detect fluid behind the eardrum using nothing more
than a piece of paper and a smartphone’s microphone and speaker. The smartphone
makes a series of audible, soft chirping sounds into the ear through a small
paper funnel. Depending on the way the chirps are reflected back into the
phone, the app can determine the likelihood of fluid present with a probability
of detection around 85%. This method is on par with the current means used by
specialists to detect fluid in the middle ear, which involves specialized tools
that use acoustics or a puff of air.
Ear infections, once diagnosed, can be easily treated with
observation or antibiotics, and fluids can be monitored or drained by a doctor
to relieve symptoms of pain or hearing loss. A quick home screening could help
parents decide whether they need to take their child to the doctor or not.
After parents provided consent, the research team recorded
the chirps and their resulting sound waves from the patients’ ears prior to surgery.
Many of the children’s responded to the chirps by smiling or laughing.
The researchers want parents to be able to use this
technology at home and train parents how to use the system on their own
children. Parents and doctors folded paper funnels, and tested 25 ears, comparing
their results. Both parents and doctors successfully detected the six
fluid-filled ears, and also agreed on 18 out of the 19 ears with no fluid. Additionally,
the sound wave curves generated by both parent and doctor tests looked similar.
Be sure to check back to our blog for more technological
advances in the science of hearing health. If you feel that you have been
affected by hearing loss or adverse issues with you or your loved one’s ears, schedule an
appointment today with one of our hearing healthcare professionals.