Medical Moment: AI preventing hearing loss

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 5:54 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - In the U.S., 7% of children are diagnosed with fluid in their ears; those infections are costly and can damage children’s hearing.

Traditional exam tools are becoming outdated, so one doctor is building software to aid in spotting infections.

Five out of six children will develop painful ear infections by their third birthday. Their eustachian tubes connecting the ear to the back of the nose are underdeveloped, requiring artificial drainage tubes.

“They, basically, are ventilating the middle ear space,” explained Dr. Aaron Moberly at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “So, you create a hole in the ear drum, you place a tube in that’s keeping that hole open, and that allows it to ventilate the middle ear and remove any fluid that might be behind the ear drum.”

Ear infections are painful and can cause hearing loss and speech delays. Otoscopes have been in use for decades, but lack proper lighting and a clear field of view. So, Dr. Moberly is turning to creating artificial intelligence to record and analyze ear drum videos.

“The software then takes that, creates a composite image, but then also provides some feedback back to the clinician and says, ‘This is a 90% chance that this isn’t a normal-looking ear, or this is a 75% chance of there’s fluid behind the ear drum,” Dr. Moberly continued.

The AI algorithm will use deep learning to identify and classify middle ear disease with greater accuracy. This should prevent long-term hearing loss and improve speech and language development.

Dr. Moberly cautions against buying an otoscope online and trying to diagnose these infections through phone apps.