Digital stethoscopes compared to standard auscultation for detecting abnormal paediatric breath sounds

Eur J Pediatr. 2017 Jul;176(7):989-992. doi: 10.1007/s00431-017-2929-5. Epub 2017 May 16.


Our study aimed to objectively describe the audiological characteristics of wheeze and crackles in children by using digital stethoscope (DS) auscultation, as well as assess concordance between standard auscultation and two different DS devices in their ability to detect pathological breath sounds. Twenty children were auscultated by a paediatric consultant doctor and digitally recorded using the Littman™ 3200 Digital Electronic Stethoscope and a Clinicloud™ DS with smart device. Using spectrographic analysis, we found those with clinically described wheeze had prominent periodic waveform segments spanning expiration for a period of 0.03-1.2 s at frequencies of 100-1050 Hz, and occasionally spanning shorter inspiratory segments; paediatric crackles were brief discontinuous sounds with a distinguishing waveform. There was moderate concordance with respect to wheeze detection between digital and standard binaural stethoscopes, and 100% concordance for crackle detection. Importantly, DS devices were more sensitive than clinician auscultation in detecting wheeze in our study.

Conclusion: Objective definition of audio characteristics of abnormal paediatric breath sounds was achieved using DS technology. We demonstrated superiority of our DS method compared to traditional auscultation for detection of wheeze. What is Known: • The audiological characteristics of abnormal breath sounds have been well-described in adult populations but not in children. • Inter-observer agreement for detection of pathological breath sounds using standard auscultation has been shown to be poor, but the clinical value of now easily available digital stethoscopes has not been sufficiently examined. What is New: • Digital stethoscopes can objectively define the nature of pathological breath sounds such as wheeze and crackles in children. • Paediatric wheeze was better detected by digital stethoscopes than by standard auscultation performed by an expert paediatric clinician.

Keywords: Auscultation; Child; Respiratory sounds; Stethoscopes.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Auscultation / instrumentation*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Observer Variation
  • Respiratory Sounds / diagnosis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Stethoscopes*