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Coughs are annoying, whether it’s you who’s doing the hacking or it’s a co-worker, family member or friend you have to hear. Dry coughs are irritating because you can’t even say a couple words before going into a fit. Wet coughs are disgusting because just when you think you’ve hacked up enough phlegm, here comes another round. But it’s those gross, irritating coughs that can determine underlying illnesses and help doctors come up with a proper diagnosis.

An Australian health care company is working on an app that can take the sound of a person’s cough and diagnose a patient on the spot. It might just be a common cold sorting itself out. Or, it could very well be a pneumonia-induced cough that could be tickling your throat.

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“There is information contained in the sound of your cough — signatures that are specific to a particular illness,” Brian Leedman, the co-founder and executive director of ResApp Health, told Mashable. “People don’t seek treatment for what turns out to be serious conditions. But we all know that the sooner you can be diagnosed with an illness, the better the outcome, in terms of recovery.”

Udantha Abeyratne, ResApp’s chief technical adviser, was the first to develop cough-analyzing technology. She won a $100,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help integrate mobile phones and mp3 players with microphones that could record cough and sleep sounds. Her goal is to help diagnose pneumonia in developing countries.

Although it can be easily treated with antibiotics, if not diagnosed in time, it can kill. Pneumonia is the No. 1 infectious cause of death in children worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

With ResApp, patients just need to download the app and cough a few times into their smartphones. The app will then see if the patterns of the cough match up to cough patterns caused by pneumonia (which is stored in the app’s database), and will then diagnose pneumonia without human intervention.

Sounds glorious, right? But Dr. William Checkley, an expert on lung disease and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says analyzing cough sounds “is something that needs to be validated” and properly diagnosing respiratory illnesses may require more than just listening to the sounds of a cough but also the sound of a person’s lungs.

All that being said, it’s a start that has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives all over the world. Sounds good to us.

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