You use your phone to talk, text, play games, but could it tell you if your child is sick?

At 14-month-old, Harper Barrett has an ear infection. 

“She just got her second one," said Megan Barrett, Harper's mother.

It’s one of the most common reasons kids see their pediatricians. But Barrett 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 it’s a waste of time and money," Barrett said.

A new product may be the answer parents like Megan have been waiting for; an iPhone otoscope.

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.  To use it, 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, and 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," said Kathryn Rappaport, Medical Student at the Emory University School of Medicine.

Pediatrician Dr. Andi Shane, Assistant Professor at the Emory University School of Medicine, says the new technology is more advanced.

"The only thing that, a conventional otoscope, is providing is a light source,” said Shane. 

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

Barrett 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," she said.

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.

Additional Information:

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