Otitis media (OM) is a common ear infection and a leading cause of conductive hearing loss in the pediatric population. Current technologies such as otoscopy, pneumatic otoscopy, tympanometry, and acoustic reflectometry are used to diagnose OM, which can reasonably diagnose the infection with a sensitivity and specificity of 50-90% and 60-90%, respectively. However, these techniques provide limited information about the physical architecture of the tympanic membrane (TM), or what may lie behind it. Here, we report the detection of nanometer-scale structural changes of the TM using nano-sensitive optical coherence tomography (nsOCT). In total, an image dataset from 65 pediatric subjects from three different groups (normal, acute OM, and chronic OM) and with longitudinal image-based analysis of ear infections were included in this study. The nsOCT data were correlated with physician diagnosis and with OCT thickness measurements and were found to be in good agreement with these results. We report that nsOCT detects in vivo structural deformations of the TM earlier than OCT alone, and enhances the detection sensitivity of OCT measurements. This unique technique for early detection of nano-scale structural modifications in the TM has the potential to aid in our understanding of microbiological effects, and possibly for early diagnosis and more effective treatment of OM.
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