As many parents know, ear infections are extremely common with children. According to the National Institutes of Health, five out of six children suffer from ear infections at least once by the time they turn three. Infections of the ear canal (acute otitis externa, or AOE) and middle ear infections (otitis media, OM) are the most prevalent forms of ear infections, says the CDC. Regardless of type, ear infections hurt a lot. I remember clearly the distress and heart-breaking concern when our children were infants, crying in obvious discomfort but too young to tell us what hurt.

Researchers from the University of Washington’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering have developed what they claim is the first smartphone app that can hear ear infections in children. The team published the results of its work in Science Translational Medicine.

The app sends sounds into the child’s ear and measures the changes in the sound waves when they bounce off the eardrum. Similar in function to the tools physicians use to detect fluid in the middle ear, the UW app uses a smartphone’s speaker and microphone with a tiny funnel folded from a piece of regular paper. Researchers reported the app’s algorithm detected the probability of fluid in the middle ear with 85% accuracy.

After diagnosis, treating an ear infection is relatively simple with antibiotics, but correct diagnosis is the sticking point. The Washington group plans to make the app available to the public via Edus Health, a UW spinoff. The does not yet have a name, but I suggest parents would be pleased if it were called “Grail.”