Measuring earwax could help reveal how stressed or depressed someone is by providing an easy way to monitor the level of cortisol in the body, researchers claim.
Experts from UCL and King’s College London discovered that the stress hormone in earwax was relatively stable and so they created a new device that could ‘take a sample and test it quickly, cheaply and effectively’.
The new device can be used at home without clinical supervision, allowing for medical check-ups while maintaining social distancing due to Covid-19.
It may also have the potential to measure glucose or Covid-19 antibodies that accumulate in earwax, according to lead author Dr Andres Herane-Vives.
Cortisol has been considered as a possible biomarker for depression, according to the research team, but it is difficult to measure accurately as levels fluctuate.
The most common technique is to use hair samples, but they suffer from short-term cortisol fluctuations and ‘not everyone has enough hair for a reliable sample’.
‘It is also more time-consuming and expensive to analyse hair samples, compared to earwax, but until now there has not been a reliable and non-stressful method to sample earwax,’ the team behind the new device explained.
Dr Herane-Vives said: ‘After this successful pilot study, if our device holds up to further scrutiny in larger trials, we hope to transform diagnostics and care for millions of people with depression or cortisol-related conditions such as Addison’s disease and Cushing syndrome, and potentially numerous other conditions.’
The findings have been published in the journal Heliyon.