- An international team of researchers says a new earwax removal device could be a simple, inexpensive, painless and effective way to measure cortisol levels, and therefore at risk of disease. related to stress such as depression.
- One small study found that earwax contains cortisol more concentrated than hair model, a more traditional method and not affected by transient stressors or other factors.
- While the researchers hope their method can give clinicians a more objective measure of mental illness, a psychologist told Insider that it’s not necessary and possible. invalidate authentic human emotions.
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Clinicians have long advised against removing earwax with a Q-Tip, as the gauze can fall too far away and damage the sensitive eardrum.
But a team of researchers from the UK, Chile and Germany say collecting earwax with their new device, called Trears, is not only safe, but could also be an effective way to track depression. and other stress-related conditions, according to a study they published. this month in Heliyon magazine.
The device works by measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which builds up in the earwax. Cortisol is usually measured through a sample of blood, urine, saliva or hair, but those samples only provide a snapshot of the stress level, which can be increased by the invasive measure of the tests themselves.
In contrast, cortisol levels in earwax “seem more stable and with our new device it̵7;s easy to quickly, cheaply and efficiently sample and test”, lead researcher, Tien Andres Herane-Vives at King’s College London said in a statement.
The approach could help diagnose certain mental illnesses more accurately, the researchers say, by adding an objective metric for more subjective people, like direct behavioral assessments. People can also use the device at home, protecting their eardrums through the integrated “brake”.
With further research, Herane-Vives says, “we hope to transform the diagnosis and care of millions of people with depression or cortisol-related conditions like Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome, and more. other latent conditions. “
Research comparing earwax samples with blood and hair
To develop Trears, the team tested the cortisol levels in the earwax of 37 participants, first using the standard (and slightly painful) syringe protocol and a month later, using the same procedure at one ear and the group’s new process on the other.
They also collected cortisol samples from hair and blood.
They found that earwax contained more concentrated cortisol than hair samples, although not as much as blood. The new technique is also the fastest and cheapest and is less susceptible to other factors such as alcohol use and transient stressful events. It is also rated as more comfortable than traditional methods.
The team is currently looking at whether Trears, being developed with support from University London’s incubator Hatchery, can help measure glucose levels, which could help track diabetes or even resistance. form COVID-19.
The study has limitations, including a small sample size and the fact that participants’ waking times were not recorded, which may affect their blood cortisol levels. Additionally, the authors say, the cortisol in the ear and serum analyzed in laboratories differed from hair cortisol samples, meaning they cannot be directly compared.
Two of the study authors were self-funded for the study and some were affiliated with pharmaceutical companies.
Clinical psychologist Emily Anhalt told Insider that while the study emphasizes the undervalued “cool factor” of earwax, the larger concept is that we need objective clinical evidence to make the diagnosis. guessing mental health conditions is flawed.
“Do we really need to collect earwax and send it to the lab to find out and be told that we are stressed or depressed?” Anhalt, co-founder of Coa, which considers itself the world’s first “gym” for mental health, said.
“I believe that our culture wants our mental health struggles to be simple: chemical imbalances can be properly identified and corrected, when indeed, These are often symptoms that indicate pain, trauma, unhealthy systems need to be addressed, and being human. ”
She said she hopes people can get the support and help they need, whether or not their earwax contains cortisol.