Otitis media is the leading cause of hearing loss in children. It is commonly associated with fluid in the ear, which can result in up to 45 dB of hearing loss for extended periods of time during a child’s most important developmental years. Accurate assessment of middle ear effusions is an important part of understanding otitis media. Current technologies used to diagnose otitis media with effusion are pneumatic otoscopy, tympanometry, and acoustic reflectometry. While all of these techniques can reasonably diagnose the presence of an effusion, they provide limited information about the infection present behind the tympanic membrane. We have developed a technique based on low-coherence interferometry—a non-invasive optical ranging technique capable of sensing depth-resolved microscopic scattering features through the eardrum—to quantify eardrum thickness and integrity, as well as detect any effusion, purulence, or biofilm behind the tympanic membrane. In this manuscript, the technique is coupled with a pneumatic otoscope to measure minute deflections of the tympanic membrane from insufflation pressure stimuli. This results in quantitative measurements of tympanic membrane mobility, which may be used to gain a better understanding of the impact of infection on the membrane dynamics. A small pilot study of 15 subjects demonstrates the ability of pneumatic low-coherence interferometry to quantitatively differentiate normal ears from ears with effusions present. Analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the technique, as well as focus areas of future research, is also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)555-568
Number of pages14
JournalJARO - Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 1 2017


  • biomechanics
  • imaging
  • middle ear effusion
  • optical coherence tomography
  • otitis media

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Sensory Systems


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