Tight shoulders, headaches, and chest pain are all physical manifestations of stress. It may be a mental ailment but there are ways you can monitor this condition based on how you feel physically. Spotting early signs of anxiety can be difficult but UK researchers are in the process of developing a test that analyses the levels of stress hormones in your earwax. The test is designed to be gentle to your body and scientists believe that if it’s accurate it could help doctors to diagnose mental health conditions more accurately.
A psychiatrist from University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, Dr Herane-Vives, has developed a test that looks at the build up of the stress hormone cortisol in the oil secretion of your ear canal. It’s been reported that, by measuring this, doctors may have a better insight into a patient's mental health.
Cortisol is the hormone that is released in your body when you're stressed – it's part of our instinctual “fight or flight” reaction. It has a bad rep because it’s linked to being anxious but it’s there to protect you from dangerous situations. However, raised levels of cortisol have been associated with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. Sustained and chronic stress occurs when you function for a long period of time with raised cortisol levels. This can cause an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure as well as being detrimental to your mental health.
Dr Herane-Vives developed a swab which could test earwax while not damaging the eardrum. It has a brake to stop it going too far in your ear. He believes that this new test will eradicate the need for subjectively when it comes to diagnosing mental health issues and prescribing the current treatment.
Previously cortisol levels have been measured with a blood test, something which can be anxiety-inducing in themselves. “Cortisol sampling is notoriously difficult, as levels of the hormone can fluctuate, so a sample might not be an accurate reflection of a person’s chronic cortisol levels,” said Dr Herane-Vives in the Guardian, “Moreover, sampling methods themselves can induce stress and influence the results. But cortisol levels in earwax appear to be more stable, and with our new device, it’s easy to take a sample and get it tested quickly, cheaply and effectively.”
And cortisol levels don’t just affect your mental health. Too much or too little cortisol can influence your immune system, nervous system, your circulation, and the way you respond to stress. Researchers from the UK, Chile, and Germany worked on the study and looked at the cortisol levels of 37 study people. As well as looking for stress hormone levels, the researchers said there could be trials to identify glucose levels in earwax which could assist people with diabetes, and potentially even COVID-19 antibodies.