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DIY Diagnosis For Ear Infection: There Can Soon An App For That: Shots



Dr. Randall Bly, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine who works at Seattle Children's Hospital, uses an experimental smartphone app and a paper funnel to check his ears daughter.



Dennis Wise / University of Washington


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Dennis Wise / University of Washington

Dr. Randall Bly, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine who works at Seattle Children's Hospital, uses an experimental smartphone app and a paper funnel to check his ears daughter.



Dennis Wise / University of Washington

Researchers are developing a smartphone app that, with the help of a simple funnel paper, can help parents discover continuous buildup in a child's ear – a symptom of ear infection.

The app is still experimental and requires clearance through the Food and Drug Administration before it is hit in the market. But early data, published on Wednesday at Medicine Translational Medicine indicates that the smartphone may be performing as well as an expensive test at the doctor's office.

While there are many thousands of health-related apps, this one

"All you have to do to discover fluid in the ear is to use sound," says Justin Chan, a student who graduated from Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Technology at the University of Washington in Seattle

In order to focus this sound, physicians and parents made a small paper funnel. The end of the funnel fits into the ear of the ear. The app then sends short, soft pulses of sound "kind of like a bird chirping" to the ear, Chan says.

The funnel captures that sound echo and checks the app. If there is fluid behind the eardrum, the echoes will have different sounds than healthy ears. A phone algorithm speaks almost immediately.

Chan uses a wine glass as an analogy. "If a glass of wine is empty or half full, tapping it will produce other sounds," he said. "And that's exactly what we do with our tool."

Chan is the author of a study with other researchers, with his close associate Dr. Sharat Raju, from the University of Washington and Seattle Children's Hospital and Research Institute.

About 50 children have ears check in the app. Some of those children have previously planned surgery on their eardrum, and that allow doctors to verify app results. Scientists have reported that this is accurate about 85 percent of the time, similar to the technology currently being used in otolaryngology clinics.

Chan and his colleagues started a company to develop the app as a commercial produce. He says that they are in the process of finding the FDA OK to distribute it. The agency needs more studies to measure the app's performance and reliability, but he hopes that the group will reach data at the end of the year.

"It's great, but it's too early to say how accurate it is," based on the newly published data, Dr. Kenny Chan, head of pediatric otolaryngology at Children's Hospital Colorado. "We need to wait and see."

A big question is, how useful is it for parents and doctors?

The fluid behind the eardrum is a symptom of ear infection, but "not all fluids are an infection," said Pamela Mudd, nose and throat specialist at the National Health System of Children in Washington, DC "More in a trial in [see if] there is something happening behind the eardrum that can affect my child, "rather than diagnosing ear infection. [19659021] Navigating the World Of Apps Claimed To Fix Your Drink Problem "/>
         

Doctors need to examine a child to perform an examination based on ear look, temperature and other clinical signs, he says.

Mucus and other fluid fluids can accumulate in the back of the eardrum and do not lead to infection, he said. When he examines a child's ear and can not tell by viewing, he or she is referring to a child at a clinic where doctors use an instrument called the tympanometer, which measures the end of the eardrum with the sound wave.

At the same time, the audiology clinic typically checks for hearing loss, which helps treatment treatment decisions, such as if a child benefits from tubes in order to deplete the liquid contained.

Suppose the app is shown to be effective, Mudd says, he wants to talk with parents how to interpret the results before recommending to buy it.

"They may have no knowledge that they need to understand what devices they are saying," he said. Developers indicate that the app can help parents avoid a trip to the doctor's office, but Mudd said the opposite may be the case.

"That may increase our use of the health care system" if parents take their children to the doctor for what may be a temporary bit of the fluid behind the eardrum. There may be opportunities where appropriate, he says.

Chan, the otolaryngologist in Colorado, is also concerned about it. "To think that it might change the need for a doctor's visit, I think that's pretty far," she says.

Doctors have experienced this issue after Apple entrusted a watch that could identify irregular heartbeat, says Oliver Aalami, a vascular surgeon at Stanford University who also studies health applications of mobile.

"There have been many hype around it at first, but if you talk to cardiologists, they're worried," he said, as sudden doctors face many of the worried patients, and it is not clear whether all appointments and interventions of new doctors with medications and tests are really helpful.

As a result of these concerns, Apple is now conducting a major follow-up study to measure the benefits and dangers of the app. Assuming the eardrum app gets FDA clearance, Aalami suspects that a similar study may be required to find out if the app is in balance that is worthwhile.

His first impression, in reading paper research, is that the app would be more useful in a doctor's office, both in the United States as well as in parts of the world that are less in the way of the medical resources. "It may be a little too advanced for home use," he said.

But inventors are aimed for a home-use market. "I see it like a thermometer, if you think your child is flu or cold, you're checking the temperature several times a day," Justin Chan says. "We think it has a similar purpose."

He says developers have not set a price yet, but they want the app to be widely available, especially in the development of the world, so it's priced accordingly.

] For these young computer scientists, this project can be a very exciting launch in his career. "I know this is something that will affect millions of lives," he says. "And I think it's a bit rare in research."

You can contact NPR Science Correspondent Richard Harris at rharris@npr.org.


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