An App for Researching Eyeball "Floaters"

Sep 2, 2013

Credit Gtanner (Wikimedia Commons)

Smartphone apps have been changing the way people track data about their health and fitness. Now a Yale University researcher has developed a smartphone app to gather data for medical research.

Dr. Jadon Webb says the idea began when floaters began interfering with his own vision. "I really came to notice a lot of spots in front of my eyes," said Webb. "A lot of things would look like cobwebs, or lines or shapes, that would move and seem to swim around inside my field of vision."

Webb and his team wanted to know how many other people report the same thing. "We develop apps that are available on the phone," Webb said, "and these apps then serve as a scientific venue where users can download the app. It asks them key health and demographic questions. We used that methodology to find out how many people suffer from floaters as we do."

Nearly a thousand people logged into the app. About 600 responses were usable for the study, which was published in the International Journal of Ophthalmology

The scientific board reviewing the study raised concerns that respondents tended to be young. "A pitfall for most research," Webb said, "[is] if you post something on a telephone pole--which I’ve seen on the Yale campus, saying we need volunteers for a study of diabetes--you’re getting people who are willing to look at a telephone pole, and call a number and respond." He says researchers are always judging how to generalize studies to the larger population. 

Webb has several other smartphone app medical research surveys underway.