Using a smartphone to sound out sign of kids' ear infections

In this undated photo provided by the University of Washington in May 2019, Dr. Randall Bly uses a uses a phone app and a paper funnel to focus the sound, to check his daughter for an ear infection, at the UW School of Medicine in Seattle. Bly and other researchers at the school have developed the system to “hear” a warning sign of ear infections _ fluid build-up behind the eardrum. (Dennis Wise/University of Washington via AP)

WASHINGTON — Researchers have created a way for a smartphone to "hear" a warning sign of ear infections — fluid buildup behind the eardrum.

Ear infections are common in children, and even if there's no infection, fluid in the middle ear can be painful and sometimes muffle hearing enough to harm speech development.

The smartphone approach detects if the eardrum vibrates normally in response to sound, or is stiff from fluid behind it. University of Washington researchers developed an experimental app that beams in sound and analyzes how it bounces off the eardrum.

A study found the tool worked as well as some doctors' tests. Researchers are seeking Food and Drug Administration approval.

The study was published Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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