AI smartphone app detect ear infections through paper

Parents may be able to spot ear infections with a paper cone and an app

Parents may be able to spot ear infections with a paper cone and an app

A new smartphone app can detect fluid behind the eardrum by simply using a piece of paper and a smartphone's microphone and speaker. A new app developed by researchers at the University of Washington (UW) can determine the likelihood of such an infection with an accuracy of 85%. So the authors behind this study, published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, wanted to create an easier-to-use, low-cost test that could rival that accuracy. The app works by producing a series of soft "chirps", between 1 to 4 kHz, which are played into the patient's ear through a small paper funnel. The app analyzes the tone for evidence of fluid in the middle ear based on sound waves.

The problem arises when fluid accumulates in the middle ear behind the ear drum and becomes infected.

When tested, the researchers found their system had an 85-percent likelihood of correctly identifying a middle ear infection; this is said to be comparable to the tools doctors use to detect inner ear infections. The eardrum, formally known as the tympanic membrane, is the barrier between the outer and middle ear.

Lastly, in another experiment, Chan's team had parents try to use the app on 25 ears, following a brief tutorial.

"It's like tapping a wine glass", said co-first author Justin Chan, a doctoral student in the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Depending on how much liquid is..." Using machine learning on these sounds, we can detect the presence of liquid.

The funnel used can be made from any piece of paper that either the physician or consumer can cut and fold to form the tool. That funnel acts as a conduit as the phone sends soundwaves into the child's ear canal - soundwaves that are measured after they bounce back off the eardrum.

Researchers said the app works on kids of all ages and that they were able to train parents involved in the study to use the app at home.

The researchers then trained parents to use the technology at home to screen their own children. "We used our smartphone system on the morning of the ear tube surgery and compared the results with the ground truth of what happened during surgery".

Ear infection can be hard to diagnose, since symptoms may not be present or may be vague, with a child pulling on their ears or developing a fever, for example.

"The definitive way to know if there is fluid is to make an incision in the eardrum", Gollakota explained. "So these surgeries created the ideal setting for this study". Roughly half of those kids were getting tubes in their ears replaced, while the others were getting their tonsils removed or another non-ear procedure. Among the participants scheduled for other operations, two eardrums showed symptoms of ear infection, while the other 48 appeared healthy.

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