iPhones for ear infections

Three out of four children will experience an ear infection by the time they are three. But soon diagnosing the common problem may not require a trip to the doctor's office.

You use it to talk, text, play games, but could your phone tell you if your child is sick? 14-month-old Harper Barrett has an ear infection.

It's one of the most common reasons kids see their pediatricians, but mom Megan says it's hard to know when an earache merits a trip to the doctor.

"If you take her, and she doesn't have an ear infection, then, you know, it's a waste of time and money," says Megan Barrett.

This may be the answer parents like Megan have been waiting for.

The instrument slides right onto the phone. It contains fiber optic cables that connect with the phone's light, along with a small magnifying glass. Open the app, push a button, put it up to the ear, and record a video clip.

The idea is parents take pictures and video at home, then send it to their doctor, who will tell them if they need to come in. In a clinical trial, researchers found images captured with the iPhone are at least as good as those captured with the standard instrument.

"We are looking to see if the images, we can get from this device are of diagnostic quality," says Kathryn Rappaport a medical student at Emory University School of Medicine

Pediatrician Andi Shane says the new technology is more advanced.

"This is what we call a conventional otoscop,” explains Andi Shane, MD, an assistant professor, at Emory University School of Medicine. The only thing that this is providing is a light source."

She says the device could save time, money, and maybe even reduce the use of antibiotics.

Megan would love to give it a try.

"Just to be able to check it out myself and be able to send it to the doctor, it would be amazing," says Megan.

Researchers finished the initial clinical trial in February and are currently working on publishing the results.

The company that makes the device is planning to launch it this coming fall. It will likely cost between $99 and $199.

iPhones for ear infections
REPORT #1995

BACKGROUND: An ear infection (acute otitis media) is most often a bacterial or viral infection that affects the middle ear; the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the tiny vibrating bones of the ear. The infection often results from another illness -- cold, flu, or allergy -- that causes congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and Eustachian tubes. Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections, but adults can get them as well. Ear infections are a common reason parents bring their child to a doctor. Three out of four children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. (SOURCE: www.mayoclinic.com; www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/earinfections.html)

SYMPTOMS: The onset of signs and symptoms of ear infection is usually rapid. Symptoms of ear infection include:

* Hearing loss
* Drainage of fluid from the ear
* Loss of balance
(SOURCE: www.mayoclinic.com; www.emedicinehealth.com)

RISK FACTORS: Risk factors for ear infections include:

* Daycare - Children cared for in group settings are more likely to get colds and ear infections than are children who stay home.
* Infant feeding - Babies who drink from a bottle tend to have more ear infections than babies who are breast-fed.
* Poor air quality - Exposure to tobacco smoke or high levels of air pollution can increase the risk of ear infection.
(SOURCE: www.mayoclinic.com)

HOME EAR EXAMINATION: A home ear examination can help parents detect many ear problems; such as, ear infections, excessive earwax, or an object in the ear canal. Wilbur Lam, MD, PhD, from Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology created a smartphone-enabled otoscope for remote diagnosis of pediatric ear infections. The Remotoscope is a clip-on attachment and software app that turns an iPhone into a digital otoscope.
(SOURCE: www.webmd.com; www.actsi.org/news/2012/Documents/Lam%20Interview_ccm_final.pdf)

TREATMENT: The goal of treatment for most doctors is to rid the middle ear of infection before more serious complications set in. Treatment usually involves eliminating the causes of the ear infection, killing any invading bacteria, boosting the immune system, and reducing swelling in the Eustachian tube. Doctors typically prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection, usually Amoxicillin, but there are home remedies, such as:

* Steam inhalations or a warm compress
* When bottle feeding, make sure the baby is in an upright position
* Gargling with salt water helps soothe an aggravated throat and may help clear the Eustachian tubes
(SOURCE: www.webmd.com)

For More Information, Contact:

Wilbur A. Lam, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta / Emory University School of Medicine

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