App MD: 5 smart phone apps that could save you a trip to the doctor

Odds are, your smart phone is full of apps to help you live your life: games, task management, e-mail and more. You may even have an application like WebMD, but did you know there are other medical apps on the market, or coming soon, that might save you a trip to the doctor's office?

Thanks to increasingly sensitive sensors on smart phones, developers are able to create apps to diagnose what ails you and even figure out what prescription you need. In addition to helping you cut out a doctor visit, these apps may also help an aid worker bring medical care to people living in impoverished areas, without the need for an on-site physician or expensive and difficult-to-transport equipment.

These first three apps can be downloaded today to help you determine if an office visit is necessary; the last two are on the horizon.

sleep aid appSleep Aid App- iTunes - $2.99

According to the American Sleep Apnea Foundation, sleep apnea affects over 12 million Americans, but "the vast majority go undiagnosed." If you find yourself suffering from daytime sleepiness and loud snoring at night, you might have sleep apnea. The Sleep Aid App will record you sleeping, then allow you to compare your snoring and nighttime activity with samples of sleep apnea. This way, you can test yourself and be alerted to this life-threatening disorder without the need to go in for an expensive sleep study.

back pain appPain Free Back - iTunes - $4.99

Back Pain affects 8 out of 10 people and can range from an annoyance to an affliction that literally immobilizes you. Figuring out if your back pain can be corrected through exercise or warrants a trip to the chiropractor can be difficult. The Pain Free Back app walks you through a series of questions to determine what's wrong with your back. If your back pain can be treated with exercise, the app will recommend actions, including more than 40 demonstration videos. On the other hand, if the problem appears severe, Pain Free Back will direct you to the ER or your doctor.

- iTunes - Free

uHear appDo you find yourself saying "Huh?" or "Can you repeat that?" on a regular basis? Then you might be suffering from hearing loss. Hearing loss can hit at any age, especially if you're in noisy environments. The uHear app runs through a cycle of hearing tests to help you assess your hearing without having to visit your general practitioner just to get a referral to a hearing specialist. The app will test your hearing and let you know if you are within the range for your age group or if you should seek a professional assessment.

uHear video demonstration:

MIT Optometry App
- Availability TBD - $2 attachment + App

MIT Optometry app"Is this better or is this better? How about this?" If you're not ready to be questioned by your optometrist quite yet, the new MIT Optometry app and smart phone add-on may be just what you're looking for. This app makes use of a $2 smart phone attachment to assess your eyesight. The tool, which is seen as offering aid workers a great way to assist individuals in impoverished areas, is not yet available, but would make a great pairing with these adlens adjustable glasses. If it arrives on app stores in the U.S., you could use this app as an easy way to check your eyesight and determine if you need to go in for a new prescription.

MIT Optometry App video demo

Cough Diagnoser
- Available when samples have been collected and audio is fine tuned -- estimated cost will be less than $4.99 (based on other medical apps).

One of the most common symptoms that precipitates a trip to the doctor is coughing. Since many illnesses come with a cough, it's hard for the average person to tell how bad their cough really is. That's something a trained professional can do while listening to how dry or wet your cough is and how loud you are coughing. Now it's also something an app can do, or will be able to do soon. Scientists are hoping that someday in the near future, you can cough into your phone and have an app analyze your cough against a sample of 1,000 known coughs, then let you know if you have a tickle in your throat or something much more serious. STAR analytical services has received a grant from the Gates Foundation to build this technology for use in developing countries, but don't be surprised if it makes its way into app stores closer to home, too.

Word of Warning:

It's important to understand that, for now, these apps can't replace your doctor, and you should always use common sense when evaluating your health via an app or the Internet. If an app says you're OK but you feel ill, err on the side of caution and go see a doctor. Perhaps soon, you'll be able to get the opinion of a real doctor using FaceTime or another video-chatting tool, but for now, play it safe.
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