There are plenty of health apps for tracking steps, body temperature, and heart rate. But what about one that can diagnose an ear infection?
That’s what researchers are trying to create through a series of studies, the first of which was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday. While the technology is new, scientists are hopeful that eventually, there will be an app for your smartphone that, with the help of a small funnel, will be able to diagnose an ear infection without a doctor’s help.
One symptom of ear infections is a buildup of fluid in the ear — which is what this app is aiming to detect. “All you really need to do to detect ear fluid is use sound,” said Justin Chan, the lead author of the study.
To use this technology, NPR explained, users would hold up a paper funnel to the ear in question, and allow the app to send a short burst of sound into the funnel. Then, the smart phone’s microphone would pick up the echo, and use that to figure out whether there was fluid in the ear or not. This process is likened to tapping on a glass when it’s empty compared to when it’s full — there should be a difference in the sound the app “hears.”
One problem is that not all fluid buildup in the ear is indication of an infection, so there’s a possibility of false positives. But in this preliminary study, the technology was accurate about 85 percent of the time. “It’s too early to tell how accurate” this technology would be among regular users at home, said Kenny Chan a pediatric otolaryngologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. “We will have to wait and see.” Read more at NPR. Shivani Ishwar