A group of researchers from the University of Washington have created an application that only requires a smartphone and a folded piece of paper to detect ear infections, according to a recent Gizmodo report.
Researchers published data from a study of the application, dubbed EarHealth, on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine, according to the report.
The test has the same or greater accuracy as a doctor, according to Gizmodo, and functions by playing chirping sounds through a paper funnel into the ear canal. The sounds then bounce from the middle ear back to the phone and interact with sounds still being played, which are picked up by the phones mic and analyzed by the EarHealth application, according to Gizmodo.
Based on fluctuations in the sound waves it picks up, the application predicts the odds of fluids in the ear, according to the report.
“It’s a bit like tapping a wine glass. Depending on if the glass is empty or half-full, you’ll get a different sound, so it’s the same principle here,” co-lead author Justin Chan, a doctoral student at the University of Washington, told Gizmodo.
The application and paper funnel were tested initially with children between the ages of 18 months and 17 years that were admitted to the Seattle Children’s Hospital. Data from those tests were used to refine the predictive algorithm, according to the report.
“It’s not actually easy for existing screening tools to detect middle-ear fluid. Really, the only way you can know, with complete certainty, is to undergo a surgical operation where they make an incision into the eardrum, where it can drain the fluid. So once you make that incision, you can tell for sure if there’s fluid or not,” Chan told Gizmodo.
In its initial foray, the application had a reported 85% accuracy in detecting patients with ear fluid and an 80% accuracy in detecting if patients didn’t have fluid, according to the report.
Investigators went on to test the application with 15 children between nine and 18 months old, as babies are the most at risk for ear infections, according to Gizmodo. In its second test, the app correctly identified all five children with ear fluid and reported no ear fluid in nine out of 10 of the children without ear fluid.
In another experiment, the device was used by parents to test usability, with accuracy reportedly being similar to earlier testing, according to the report. Children in all the trials were also reportedly compliant with the testing, reportedly finding it comforting.
“The chirps are actually quite soft. And interestingly, when we played into the ears of children in the hospital, we found that they responded with smiles or laughs. It turns out the chirps have a calming effect,” Chan told Gizmodo.
Researchers are hopeful that the device could allow doctors in less-developed areas perform screenings on the go, and that it could be used by parents as an at-home diagnostic, according to the report.
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