Engineers and doctors from the University of Washington invented the first app that can sound out ear infection in children. With just a piece of paper cut, folded into a funnel and attached onto a smartphone, parents can easily detect fluid buildup behind the eardrum at home and can prevent frequent pediatrician visits. The app works by playing birdlike chirps and the phone’s microphone will then detect sound waves bouncing off the eardrum. It analyzes the broad-spectrum vibration from a healthy eardrum but if the reflected sound is altered, it means pus or uninfected fluid is present. It also sends a text message if fluid is present in the ear or any information that can be used for diagnosis.

Researchers tested the system using a smartphone on 98 children between the ages of 18 months and 17 years who were about to undergo surgery at Seattle’s Children Hospital. Half of the children’s ear had tubes implanted to know how much fluid is present and to compare its results with the app. It was found out that the smartphone approach is as good as or can also be better than the specialized acoustic testing devices. Dr. Randall Bly, one of the co-authors and ear specialist in the University of Washington, said that the app was like using a thermometer in deciding whether it is time to visit a doctor or not. The university has already filed for patent and is still seeking for approval from the Food and Drugs Administration to sell the app.