Swallowing disorders can be debilitating, even causing nutritional deficiencies in some patients. They can also be difficult to diagnose and require the use of expensive equipment that is only found in select hospitals. Exercises can help those that are diagnosed with certain conditions, but even those exercises require the use of costly devices.
Researchers at Purdue University have now come up with a flexible stick-on sensor that, when attached under the chin, is able to monitor the activity of the nearby muscles and movement of the larynx in real-time. Their work is described in journal Science Advances.
The flexible patch is attached to a cable that leads to a control unit that is able to communicate with a nearby smartphone, computer, or tablet. The readings can be displayed on one of those devices and activity around the upper esophagus analyzed by clinicians, but also by the patient that may be performing prescribed exercises.
While they’re pretty rugged, the new stickers will work for about 10 times before they have to be replaced with new ones. The researchers hope that soon they will be able to make that time much longer.
So far, the technology has been successfully tested in pre-clinicial trials and clinical trials are currently under way, so it is expected that these sensors will soon be available for use.
“Our device is unique in that we specifically created it to work well with the small and intricate muscles associated with swallowing events,” said Chi Hwan Lee, one of the study leads, in a press release. “The sensor sticker is stretchable and flexible to work well with the skin and curvilinear head and neck shape, while the connected unit has electronic chips and more rigid components.”
Here’s a video Purdue University released showing off the new device:
Study in journal Science Advances: Flexible submental sensor patch with remote monitoring controls for management of oropharyngeal swallowing disorders