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Scientists develop earphones to detect life-threatening brain injuries and infections

The technique involves a patient wearing a headphone with an ear plug linked to a computer
The technique involves a patient wearing a headphone with an ear plug linked to a computer

Doctors have developed a pioneering brain pressure test using a special set of headphones that can detect life-threatening head injuries and infections without the need for surgery or painful spinal procedures.

The technique being used by Southampton General Hospital, which involves a patient wearing the headphones with an ear plug linked to a computer, enables doctors to measure fluid pressure in the skull - known as intracranial pressure (ICP) - via a channel which links the inner ear with the brain.

As fluids in the ear and brain are connected, a change in pressure in the brain is reflected by a corresponding change in the ear - which can signal the need for intervention.

The headphones are set to be used in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as meningitis and head trauma injuries, as well as the monitoring and management of patients who are in comas.

The device, called the cerebral and cochlear fluid pressure (CCFP) analyser, is also being adapted by Nasa to analyse brain pressure levels in astronauts to help tackle space-related visual problems and sickness.

Doctors also believe it could be used to distinguish between head injuries and post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning from combat zones.

Dr Robert Marchbanks, a consultant clinical scientist, said: "We know that high pressure inside the skull resulting from injuries and infections can be fatal, so it is essential it is detected as early as possible to avoid exacerbating symptoms and ensure treatment can begin promptly.

"Current methods for testing ICP require procedures to be carried out under sedation or anaesthetic, which means they are limited to the most severe cases and those with less obvious initial symptoms often go undetected until their symptoms have worsened.

"However, as our CCFP device does not require a patient to do anything other than wear a set of headphones with an ear plug, it has the potential to provide rapid, accurate and safe assessments to patients in much larger numbers than is currently possible."