Diagnosing Earaches with Your iPhone

For a parent, there are certain eternal truths. Kids don’t need a bathroom until you’re packed up and in the car, for instance. And winter means ear infections, especially if your child is prone to them.

There’s nothing to be done about the car-trip problem, except to grit your teeth and find a rest stop. But if you’re a parent whose child frequently suffers from painful earaches, a new iPhone app in development, called the Remotoscope, might come in handy.

The Remotoscope aims to put an end to late-night trips to the emergency room, screaming child in tow. Simply clip the otoscope – similar to that small, flashlight-like device the doctor uses to examine your child’s eardrum – to your phone and insert it into your child’s ear. Using the phone’s camera, the device sends images of your child’s middle ear to your pediatrician so that he or she can track the inflammation over several days. Granted, this won’t reduce your child’s pain right now – for that, you’ll still need hot compresses and over-the-counter pain relievers. But it just may cut down on the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

Pediatricians often see a child just once per earache, says Wilbur Lam, MD, PhD, a physician at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA) and a member of the app development team. So they often err on the side of prescribing antibiotics for infections that turn out to be viral (antibiotics don’t help in such cases). “We are currently over-treating ear infections with antibiotics,” says Dr. Lam, “and, consequently, causing antibiotic resistance,” which means that over time, the drugs lose their power to treat the condition.

Dr. Lam and his colleagues hope parents who use the Remotoscope will be more comfortable with “watchful waiting” to see if antibiotics are truly needed. If current studies show that the device makes a dent in inappropriate prescribing, the Remotoscope should hit the market.

As for the bathroom problem on family car trips, we’re still waiting for an app for that.


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Do you rush to get antibiotics when your child has an ear infection, or are you comfortable with a “watchful waiting” approach? Let us know in the comment box below. 

File under: In the News


Page Gaither

Based in San Diego, Page Gaither is a Deputy Editor at Sharecare. Before joining Sharecare, Page spent 6 years researching, writing, editing, and developing web-based health behavior change content products for consumers and clinicians at American Specialty Health, and over 4 years as a freelance editor and writer creating digital and print content. Page has a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Writing Studies with an emphasis in technical and scientific writing, and has also studied public health and educational psychology. She is particularly passionate about creating clear, user-friendly health content products that help people live their healthiest lives, despite chronic illness and other everyday health challenges.

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