Ultrasound for Ear Infections

September 2019

US company OtoNexus Medical Technologies has teamed up with Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS to develop an innovative new diagnostic device for inner-ear infections.

The research project came up a new type of ultrasound transducer integrated into an otoscope, the instrument physicians use to look into patients’ ears. Conventional otoscopes are solely visual devices.

“The transducer emits ultrasonic pulses and captures the echo reflected from the eardrum,” writes Fraunhofer. “On the basis of this data, the device generates a reading that tells the doctor about the degree of infection.”

The new device promises to dramatically improve the diagnosis and treatment of ear ailments, particularly in infants and young children, which can be caused by both bacteria and viruses and which require different treatments.

“Middle-ear infections, called otitis media, are the number one reason for antibiotics and surgery in kids,” says OtoNexus Chair and CEO Caitlin Cameron. “Yet clinical studies show that doctors get it wrong fifty percent of time, particularly in the key differentiation of antibiotic versus no antibiotic.”

Otonexus, which developed the system’s proprietary software, says the ultrasound device will be help minimize the use of antibiotics, reduce healthcare costs and improve outcomes. Fraunhofer, which came up with the microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology in the transducer, says the latter can be produced economically and with low power consumption.

The new otoscope is currently at the prototype stage with market launch anticipated within a few years.

© Fraunhofer IPMS