Psychiatrists believe they may have discovered a surprising new approach to diagnosing depression and other underlying emotional disorders – through the ear, everywhere. They found that earwax retained levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is used to evaluate mental health in clinical settings.
Currently, doctors use subjective evaluations to make a mental health diagnosis and decide which therapy is appropriate. But Dr. Andres Herane-Vives, a psychiatrist at the University of London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, told the BBC that diagnostic accuracy was “the only way to come up with the right treatment. “.
The study involved only 37 volunteers, but Herane-Vives believes they have effectively demonstrated the viability of their method, able to “transform diagnostics and care for millions of people with depression. or conditions related to stress, “he said in a statement.
Currently, the most common method for measuring cortisol is with blood, saliva or urine, but that method only provides a snapshot of the hormone levels at that time. In earwax, the chemical settles and builds up over time, telling your doctor how long to abnormal stress levels last.
“Sampling cortisol is notoriously difficult, since hormone levels can fluctuate,”; said Herane-Vives, whose work was published in the Heliyon magazine. “Furthermore, the methods of sampling themselves can be stressful and affect the results.”
Initially, researchers thought to use hair samples, as well as during drug testing. However, by comparison, hair follicles secrete less cortisol than earwax, which has also been shown to be easier and cheaper to test, thanks to a new earwax removal device.
While it is generally not necessary to remove earwax for good hygiene, experts are adept at navigating the sensitive ear canal – especially if someone has accumulated enough earwax to cause pain or damage. Their hearing aids are ineffective. But the researchers’ new approach is much simpler than visiting an ear, nose, and throat clinic.
From their home, patients can take samples and send them to a lab for analysis. Trears, the diagnostic gauze created for the study, has a “brake” that prevents the user from digging into the ear canal too deeply and damaging the sensitive drum.
That’s a legitimate concern as cotton swabs are still the main cause of eardrum perforation. A 2017 report found that 66% of patients treated for a perforated eardrum due to trauma were caused by “instrument”, primarily a cotton tip applicator (ie Q-tip), they said.
With our new and more reliable methods and safer tools, researchers believe we are moving closer to the objective biological approach to mental conditions.
“We hope to change the diagnosis and care of millions of people with depression or cortisol-related conditions like Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome,” says Herane-Vives.