This smartphone app uses paper to 'hear' ear infections in kids

Researchers with the University of Washington have developed a new smartphone app that is used in conjunction with an ordinary paper funnel to 'hear' ear infections in children. The system specifically targets middle ear infections, which are very common in children and responsible for the majority of trips parents make to pediatricians.

Middle ear infections result in fluid build-up in the space behind the eardrum; these infections are often painful and may result in fussy children who pull at their ears and complain of general discomfort. In some cases, however, the infection may go undetected, resulting in more serious issues including hearing problems.

The newly developed app, which was detailed in a study published in Science Translation Medicine, uses a paper funnel and the technology already found in the average smartphone to detect the middle ear infection and alert parents to the issue.

The system is very simple to use: the small paper funnel, which can be easily folded at home, is placed over the microphone and speaker on a phone. The app is launched, the funnel is placed near the child's outer ear, and a chirping tone is played through the phone. The app analyzes the tone for evidence of fluid in the middle ear based on sound waves.

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 algorithm that analyzes the audio was trained on older kids, but found to also work accurately on younger kids.