A device to control tinnitus patients evolution at home
FGUSAL/DICYT Tinnitus is a hearing alteration characterized because the patient perceives a beep sound, without coming from outside, since it is generated in the ear itself or in the auditory nerve. Although it has no cure, it can be controlled so the patient can live a relatively normal life, but the diagnostic tests and follow-up in a clinic are complex. Therefore, the BISITE research group at the University of Salamanca has developed a simple device so that the patient can self-assess at home and doctors have more information about their condition.
"The usual tests to detect tinnitus are performed by an otolaryngologist with the help of very complex devices and tests," explains researcher Fernando de la Prieta, director of this project. "We have developed the same type of tests but so that the patient can carry them out by himself, at home. This way, the doctor can have more information from patients daily evolution, "explains Fernando de la Prieta, BISITE researcher.
This system can make a great contribution to healthcare, because it is much cheaper than the tests carried out in a clinic and because it facilitates the monitoring of patients who, along with this problem, often suffer from anxiety, stress, and depression as not being able to enjoy a normal life.
In essence, the solution consists of a mobile application that includes different tests to measure tinnitus and that connects with a device developed by the researchers themselves. "We generate several types of beeps, with different frequencies and volumes, which go to two headphones. One of them is a regular one, similar to that we use to listen to music. The other one goes directly to the bone. It is a bone transducer that allows detecting if the problem comes from the external ear or the auditory nerve, "says Fernando de la Prieta.
The patient himself manages the device and can perform an audiometry to evaluate the functioning of the auditory system or an acufenometry, to estimate the importance of the tinnitus he currently suffers.
Upcoming tests with patients
The project, which arose from a collaboration with the University of L'Aquila, in Italy, has gone ahead thanks to the Proof of Concept call of the General Foundation of the University of Salamanca, within the TCUE program from the regional Government of Castilla y León , co-financed with FEDER funds. The health center of La Alamedilla in Salamanca will join the project in its next phase to carry out real tests with patients, both Spanish and Italian.
"The biggest advantage of our device is that patients themselves can measure their level of tinnitus with the mobile phone in different daily life situations, just through a device that is very cheap and that equates the measures to those that a doctor could perform at a clinic", says the researcher.
Cheap and easy to use
As for the hardware, the first version of the prototype includes a modular plate, but "we are already working on a new version with an integrated plate that will remain affordable, since it can cost 40 or 50 euros," says Pablo Chamoso, another BISITE researcher involved in the project.
All the processing and even the feeding of the device take place in the patient's mobile since it is connected to a USB cable. That is, it does not need batteries or any other type of connection. This is a great advantage because not only reduces costs but also because all the information is in the app.
"It's very easy to use, with two or three buttons you can perform audiometry and acufenometry," he says. However, the patient would have to go through a brief training phase with their doctor, just a few minutes to learn how to use the application and to be able to perform the tests at home.
"BISITE research group is currently developing both applied and theoretical research and as always, our top priority is to transfer any of our results to society," says Juan Manuel Corchado, team leader.
A few years ago we started working with researchers from the University of L'Aquila in an educational project to develop technology for people with hearing problems.
In this case, after carrying out a broad prior theoretical work that has been published in artificial intelligence journals, "we have managed to develop a product that currently is in a prototype phase but that can be easily produced at an industrial level," he points out. The ability to transfer computer algorithms to hardware has proven to be key in this type of project.
"We fulfill our obligation, which is to bring to society everything we can to improve the quality of life of people, as those who will benefit from this technology," says Corchado.