Researchers at the University of Washington have created a new smartphone app that can detect fluid behind the eardrum by simply using a piece of paper and a smartphone's microphone and speaker. The smartphone makes a series of soft audible chirps into the ear through a small paper funnel and, depending on the way the chirps are reflected back to the phone, the app determines the likelihood of fluid present with a probability of detection of 85%. This is on par with current methods used by specialists to detect fluid in the middle ear, which involve specialized tools that use acoustics or a puff of air. Ear infections are the most common reason that parents bring their children to a pediatrician, according to the National Institutes of Health. This condition occurs when fluid builds up in the middle ear behind the eardrum and is infected. This buildup is also common in another condition called otitis media with effusion. Any kind of fluid buildup can be painful and make it hard for children to hear, which can be especially detrimental when they are learning to talk. Both conditions are hard to diagnose because they have vague symptoms: Sometimes children tug on their ears or have fevers, and sometimes there are no symptoms. In addition, young children may not be able to describe where they hurt.
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