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Does my baby have an ear infection?

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By Associated press

Researchers have created a way for a smartphone to "hear" a harbinger of ear infections – a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum.

In case of a problem, parents could one day check their ears at home simply by using a phone application and "all you have at home – paper, tape and scissors," said the reporter. one of the principal investigators, Dr. Sharat Raju, of the University of Washington.

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons for visiting pediatricians. Even if there is no infection, the fluids that accumulate in the middle ear can be painful and can sometimes dull the hearing in ways that adversely affect to the development of speech.

The diagnosis is difficult. Usually, a pediatrician peeks into the child's ear to see if the eardrum is inflamed and parents can buy cameras using cameras to do the same thing. But ear specialists tend to use more expensive and complex tests that determine whether the eardrum is flexible enough to vibrate properly in response to sound, or whether it is stiff because of the fluid pressure behind it.

A team of engineers and physicians from the University of Washington has developed a simple acoustic test method on a smartphone: cut a piece of paper, fold it into a funnel and stick it around the microphone and phone speakers. Direct the funnel to the ear canal to concentrate the sound. An experimental application emits sound signals resembling birds, at a specific frequency. The microphone detects sound waves that bounce off the eardrum.

The application analyzes this echo, a broad spectrum vibration from a healthy eardrum. Pus or uninfected fluid alters the mobility of the eardrum and alters the reflected sound. The app sends an SMS stating it is likely that the middle ear fluid is present – information, as well as other symptoms, that can be used for the diagnosis.

"This type of technology could potentially avoid unnecessary visits to the doctor," said Dr. Justin Golub, an ear specialist at Columbia University, who did not participate in the research . Golub often sees patients who are suspected of having otitis who do not actually have it. He described the accuracy of the tool as "rather impressive".

The researchers tested the system on 98 ears, in children over 18 months about to be operated on at the Seattle Children's Hospital. Half had implanted atria, so doctors could accurately determine the amount of fluid to compare to the results obtained with a smartphone. The system has detected a fluid as well or better than specialized acoustic testing devices, the team said Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

A smaller test showed similar results as early as the age of 9 months. And in a separate experiment involving 25 children's ears, parents used the smartphone to check for the presence of fluid as well as doctors did.

"Examining the ears is difficult," and the doctors also need more powerful tools, said Dr. Alejandro Hoberman, chief of pediatrics at UPMC Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh, who does not have a problem. also did not participate in the research.

Fluid does not mean infection

But the fact that the liquid is present does not mean that he is infected – and Hoberman feared that the use at home of such a device "could alarm parents" and that doctors are pushing about the doctors for that they prescribe unnecessary antibiotics.

Dr. Randall Bly, Ear Specialist at the University of Washington and co-author of the study, explains that the smartphone approach is a bit like using a thermometer to decide when to call a doctor. If he finds no signs of fluid, "then you can be pretty confident that the fever or anything is probably not related to an ear infection," he explained.

But many children have a persistent ear fluid without infection – and they are supposed to be followed for months to decide if they need hearing tubes. Home monitoring would be easier and less expensive than repeated visits to the doctor just for an ear test, added Raju, a resident in surgery.

This is one of the reasons why the US Academy of Otolaryngology 2016 has called for developing home strategies to detect the disease. " accumulation of fluid in the ears.

The research was funded in part by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. The university has filed a patent and researchers are seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration to sell the application.

When do you take your child to the pediatrician or clinic?

The CDC says:

  • When the temperature exceeds 102.2 ° F
  • If liquid, blood or pus come out of ears
  • If symptoms worsen or do not improve after two or three days
  • If a baby under three months old has a fever

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