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Image credit: Dennis Wise/University of Washington

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

It uses a smartphone and a paper funnel to detect fluid buildup.
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Dennis Wise/University of Washington

Researchers are working on a smartphone app that could help diagnose ear infections. As NPR reports, the app uses the phone's microphone, its speaker and a small paper cone. In its current form, the app sends short, sound pulses through a funnel and into the ear canal. It then measures the echo of that sound, and an algorithm uses the reading to predict if there's fluid behind the eardrum, one of the common symptoms of infection.

The team of researchers -- from the University of Washington and the Seattle Children's Research Institute -- released their initial findings in Science Translational Medicine today. In their study, about 50 children had their ears checked with the app, and the tool was correct about 85 percent of the time, which is comparable to technology used in clinical settings. But as NPR reports, the app is still in development, and it will need FDA approval before it hits the market.

The researchers hope this might help parents diagnose ear infections, but specialists point out that not all fluid behind the eardrum indicates an infection. Not long ago, the Apple Watch heart monitor, which can warn of irregular heart rhythms, faced similar concerns. Some initially feared that its results could be false positives, but a recent study by Stanford University suggests otherwise. Of course, health-based apps have become increasingly popular, and the FDA has approved products like a personal ECG device, an app-connected inhaler and a contraceptive app, all of which might help pave the way for this product.

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