Newborns across the United States are screened for hearing impairment. This test is important because it helps families better understand the health of their children, but it is often not available to children in other countries because the screening device is expensive.
A team led by researchers at the University of Washington has created a new hearing screening system that uses a smartphone and low-cost earphones instead. The team tested the device on 114 patients, including 52 babies up to 6 months of age. The researchers also tested the device on pediatric patients with known hearing loss. Their instrument was performed in addition to the commercial device, and they correctly identified all hearing-impaired patients.
The team published these results on October 31 The nature of biomedical engineering.
There are huge health inequalities in the world. I grew up in a country where hearing screening is not available, in part because the screening device itself is very expensive. The project here aims to take advantage of the prevalence of mobile devices that people around the world already own –; Smartphones and earphones from $2 to $3 -; To make newborn hearing screening affordable for everyone without sacrificing quality. “
Shyam Gollakota, Senior Author, UW Professor at Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering
Since babies cannot tell doctors if they can hear a particular sound, these tests rely on the mechanics of the ear.
Co-author Dr. Neck surgery at the University of Washington School of Medicine practicing at Seattle Children’s Hospital. “This examination is very sensitive, which means that if there is a concern about a patient’s hearing, they will be referred for a more comprehensive evaluation with a specialist.”
For the test, doctors send two different tones to the ear at the same time. Based on these tones, the hair cells in the ear vibrate and create a third tone, which is what doctors listen to.
One reason the commercial device is so expensive is that its amplifier is designed to play two-tones without any interference. University of Washington researchers have found that they can use affordable earphones -; where each earphone plays one of the two tones -; While that. The earphones are connected to a microphone in a probe that can be placed in the patient’s ear. The microphone records any sounds from the ear and sends them to the smartphone for processing.
“As you can imagine, these sounds coming out of the ear are very weak, and sometimes they can be hard to hear because of the noise in the environment or if the patient is moving their head,” said lead author Justin Chan, a doctoral student at the University of Washington. . Student at Allen School. “We have built algorithms on the phone that help us detect the signal even with all the background noise. These algorithms can run in real time on any smartphone and don’t require the latest smartphone models.”
The researchers tested their devices at three audiology clinics in the Puget Sound area of Washington state. For each test, they tested four different frequencies, which is typical for these types of hearing examinations. The ages of the participants ranged from a few weeks to 20 years.
The team is now working with collaborators to use this tool as part of a newborn hearing screening project in Kenya. The researchers collaborated with a group from UW’s Department of Global Health, the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Ministry of Health to create the “Towards Universal Hearing Screening of Newborns and Early Childhood in Kenya”, or TUNE.
“Right now, this is the prototype that we have created. The next challenge is really to scale this up and then work with the local experts in each country who are most familiar with the specific challenges in each situation,” Chan said. “We have an opportunity to really impact global health, especially for newborns. I think it’s gratifying to know that the research we’re doing can help solve real problems head on.”
Chan, c. et al. (2022) acoustic emission probe ready for smartphone hearing screening. The nature of biomedical engineering. doi.org/10.1038/s41551-022-00947-6.
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