Health: Cough phone offers initial diagnosis

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Hotline for cough diagnosis is activated again

The silometer enables automated cough diagnosis by telephone. Using the latest technology, the various forms of coughing can be identified when calling. From now on, the silometer can be reached again for all cough patients.

As in the previous year, the cough phone can be reached this winter and offers a first assessment of possible complaints. The so-called silometer developed by the Fraunhofer Institute records the sounds of coughing, analyzes them and provides callers with information about possible diseases. If the cough cannot be assigned to a specific illness, the announcement is: "Unfortunately we could not clearly identify your cough, so seek advice from a doctor or pharmacist."

Since significantly more people suffer from cough in winter, the need for a short-term initial assessment of the cough is particularly high during the cold season. For this purpose, the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology (IDMT) developed the silometer, which can use special software to identify the different forms of coughing in real time. The Oldenburg project group Hearing, Speech and Audio Technology of the IDMT had been working on the system on behalf of the pharmaceutical company "Boehringer Ingelheim" before the silometer was reachable by telephone for the first time last year. The callers are asked to cough in the telephone handset and then receive an initial assessment of the underlying illness based on the acoustic characteristics. According to the developers, the system provides a correct assessment in around 80 percent. Such an initial diagnosis offers clear advantages for those affected, since the treatment of the cough requires extremely different medical measures depending on the causes. The caller numbers from winter 2010/2011 speak for the need for the silometer. In the end, over 200 people called the cough phone every day. In total, more than 30,000 callers dialed the silometer number. In view of the success, the Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology announced on Thursday that the silometer was also released for this winter season.

Since cough is a symptom of various diseases, it is particularly important for those affected to know the causes of their symptoms. Especially in winter and autumn, a large part of the cough is caused by colds and flu infections, explained Stefan Goetze, responsible for the cough hotline at the Fraunhofer Institute. Cough is usually an expression of the self-cleaning process of the respiratory tract, in which possible impurities together with the secretion are coughed up by targeted coughing strokes. As such, the cough is rather helpful. The so-called irritating cough, on the other hand, is to be assessed differently according to the experts and should be a reason for medical countermeasures. A chronic cough, such as smoker's cough, can also be an expression of an overwhelming burden on the self-cleaning process of the lungs, although the health risks in this connection should not be underestimated. The cough phone offers the opportunity to get an initial assessment of the cough quickly and easily, although the hotline can of course not replace a doctor's visit.

Cough into the phone
The principle of the cough phone is relatively simple. When a call is made, a sympathetic female voice initially explains some basic things such that a complete and unambiguous diagnosis by telephone is impossible, what diagnostic options the silometer offers and that a telephone call can never replace a visit to the doctor or pharmacist. The callers are then asked to cough several times into the telephone receiver from a distance of 30 centimeters. The coughing noises are analyzed in real time with the help of special software and checked for certain clear features. "We connected a PC to the telephone service on which a detection program is installed," explained Stefan Goetze the process. When developing the silometer, the researchers had recorded and examined the typical acoustic cough characteristics for two years so that the software can use them and assign the cough to certain diseases. "In this way, the callers receive initial information about what type of cough is likely to be involved," explained Goetze. The caller is informed of the result again by the friendly lady on the phone. It informs the cough patient whether they have a cold or irritable cough, whether the cough is productive or not clearly classifiable. In addition, at the end of the phone call, we explicitly point out that the hotline is not a substitute for visiting a doctor or talking to a pharmacist. Until March 2012, interested parties can call the cough phone free of charge on 0800 0007178 to quickly and easily get an initial assessment of their symptoms.

A cough phone cannot replace a doctor's visit
Although the cough hotline always points out that a phone call can never replace a doctor's visit, many medical professionals are rather critical of the cough phone. The chairman of the General Practitioners' Association in Lower Saxony, Dr. med. Heinz Jarmatz, "he thinks that the cough phone is rather problematic because the cough characteristics depend too much on various factors such as age, weight, gender and change accordingly." Callers would also be tempted to self-diagnose through such a telephone offer, which can be problematic can. It should also be noted that coughing is a natural process that frees the respiratory tract from irritants, pollutants and foreign bodies. However, if the cough occurs regularly or over a longer period of time, professional help is urgently needed, not least to rule out serious illnesses. Many forms of cough can also be treated with naturopathic methods, whereby the focus is also on strengthening the body's defenses. Various naturopathic treatments such as intestinal rehabilitation, drainage procedures or nutritional and order therapies are used here. Depending on the causes, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) procedures, acupuncture, bioresonance therapies and homeopathy can also be helpful. (fp)

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