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Wearable Monitor Identifies Swallowing Disorders

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 01 Jan 2020
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Image: The Curasis submental swallowing sensor (Photo courtesy of Purdue University)
Image: The Curasis submental swallowing sensor (Photo courtesy of Purdue University)
A flexible submental sensor patch with remote monitoring capabilities helps in the management of oropharyngeal swallowing disorders.

Developed at Purdue University (Lafayette, IN, USA), the noninvasive skin-mountable sensor patch fits on the curvature of the submental area, providing simultaneous remote monitoring of muscle activity and laryngeal movement during swallowing tasks and maneuvers. The recording of the submental muscle activity is then sent wirelessly to separate unit (clipped on the wearer's shirt) so as to store it for later analysis by a doctor. The sensor patches are built with cheap disposable components, and are meant to be used about 10 times before they are thrown away. A study describing the device was published on December 13, 2019, in Science Advances.

Completion of a swallow requires the precise coordination of more than 30 pairs of muscles of the head and neck, six pairs of cranial nerves, and complex circuitry in the brainstem and several brain areas. Any disruption in these pathways can result in severe oropharyngeal swallowing disorders, also known as dysphagia. Swallowing rehabilitation requires frequent performance of both head and neck exercises that primarily rely on biofeedback devices, which are usually available only in large medical centers. This dearth directly affects treatment compliance and outcomes.

“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, PhD, assistant professor of biomedical and mechanical engineering at the Purdue College of Engineering, and CTO of Curasis (Lafayette, IN, USA), which will develop the product commercially. “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.”

Dysphagia is difficulty in swallowing that is sometimes classifies as a symptom, and in some contexts it is classified as a condition in its own right. It may manifest as a sensation that suggests difficulty in the passage of solids or liquids from the mouth to the stomach, a lack of pharyngeal sensation, or various other inadequacies of the swallowing mechanism. Dysphagia is distinguished from other symptoms like odynophagia (painful swallowing) and globus, the sensation of a lump in the throat. A person can have dysphagia without odynophagia, odynophagia without dysphagia, or both together.

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