ATLANTA (FOX 5 Atlanta) - Dan and Stephanie Schutts' 2-year old, Bennett, ended up in Children's Healthcare of Atlanta recently when his iron levels dropped dangerously low. He's one of 3 million people in the U.S. diagnosed with anemia each year.
Bennett needed an emergency blood transfusion, while his medical team searched for the cause of his anemia.
"We're just relying on the doctors and nurses to find out what's wrong," Dan Scutt says. "And, to do that, they have to draw blood and do these labs. So, it's hard, you try to comfort him as much as you can. But he's going to be in pain to get some of these results."
Because to confirm anemia, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta pediatric hematologist oncologist Dr. Wilbur Lam says, they have to do a blood test, which means needles.
"For kids especially, they're afraid of needles, as they should be," Dr. Lam says. "So, that involves a lot of stress on the kid, the parents, the healthcare providers as well."
But this new app could offer a painless way to detect anemia, using your smartphone and photos of your fingernails. It was created by Dr. Lam and researchers from Children's, Emory University and Georgia Tech.
As an Emory Ph.D. candidate, Rob Mannino came up with the idea for the app. He has beta thalassemia, a genetic blood disorder that causes chronic anemia.
"When I was a kid, I was actually afraid of needles," Mannino says. "I developed a phobia, just from the constant sticks I would have to undergo."
With this app, there is no stick. It detects changes in the color of the nail bed linked to blood iron levels.
"So, now, you have a way in which you can download an app, take a picture of your fingernail, and you'll know what your hemoglobin level, approximately, is," Lam says.
If it's low, Dr. Lam says, you can call your physician -- who can assess whether you can wait or need to seek medical treatment.
The app will be out later this summer, available to anyone who wants to see if they have anemia.
Lam hopes it will help families like the Schutts get answers, without so many needle pricks.