STAR Analytical Services is working to develop software that can analyze the sound of a cough and identify it as either associated with a common cold, the flu, or something worse - like pneumonia or another serious respiratory disease. Just as doctors have been doing for years, the software will "listen" to the wetness or dryness of a cough and determine whether all you need is a lozenge or if you need to come in for a doctor's visit instead.Feeling a bit under the weather? Soon you'll be able to cough into your mobile phone for an instant diagnosis. A research firm called
Turn Your Head...Towards Your Mobile Phone
The American and Australian scientists at STAR have received a $100,000 grant from the Gates Foundation to develop the cough-analyzing software for developing countries where access to health care is more limited than in first world nations. Despite the poor economic conditions of these under-developed countries, there are a plethora of mobile phones which are being used for everything from early warning systems to mobile payments to health alerts. An mobile app that diagnoses disease would fit right in.
The way the diagnostic software works is by comparing the sounds of the mobile user's cough to a database of coughs associated with all the different types of respiratory diseases. There would also be multiple coughs per disease stored in the database to take into account variations by age, gender, weight, and other factors.
While to our untrained ears, many coughs sound just alike, a tuned-in doctor - or in this case, a mobile app - can listen to the entire structure of a cough from the initial intake of air to the final 100-150 milliseconds of a cough that contains the distinctive "wet" or "dry" and "productive" or "unproductive" sounds that help to classify the cough's seriousness, explains an article on Discovery News. Even the loudness of a cough is taken into account - healthy people have coughs that are 2% louder than a sick person's.
At the moment, the software exists as a computer application but the scientists plan to have it re-written, when complete, as an application for mobile phones.
There's no word on when the mobile application will be released, but the scientists will need to collect around 1000 cough samples before the database is ready. If they're able to then design a successful analytical tool for mobile phones, the impacts to people's health would be far-reaching - and not just in developing countries, but everywhere in the world.