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Ear infection app UW
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UW researchers make app for detecting ear infections in kids

A new app developed by University of Washington researchers could help parents detect ear infections in children.

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Paired with a small piece of paper, the app can help detect fluid build-up in ears, and in turn, whether or not an infection is present.

Here’s how it works:

Using a small paper funnel attached to a phone’s microphone/speaker, the app sends a series of chirps into the ear. Those chirps are then reflected off the eardrum, back into the phone’s microphone.

Based on the frequency of chirps reflecting off the eardrum, the app can detect possible ear infections. Basically, the chirps sound different to the app with fluid in the ear, versus an ear with no fluid build-up. One researcher likens it to “tapping a wine glass.”

“Depending on how much liquid is in it, you get different sounds,” said co-first author and doctoral student Justin Chan.

The app was tested on 98 ears. A study conducted by the UW researchers determined that it could detect the presence of fluid with 85 percent probability, a number on par with advanced tools specialists use, and, according to the study, “outperformed a commercial acoustic reflectometry system.”

The hope is to lower the barrier for parents looking to screen their children for an ear infection.

“Designing an accurate screening tool on something as ubiquitous as a smartphone can be game changing for parents as well as health care providers in resource limited regions,” UW associate professor and study co-author Shyam Gollakota told UW News. “A key advantage of our technology is that it does not require any additional hardware other than a piece of paper and a software app running on the smartphone.”

With that in mind, the app is designed to be used by any parent, regardless of any formal medical training.

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