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

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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