Electric current zapping inyour ears could help combat deadly sepsis that kills 48,000 people every year, study finds


Zapping the ears with a mild electrical current can help combat the potentially deadly condition sepsis.  File image

Zapping the ears with a mild electrical current can help combat the potentially deadly condition sepsis.

The new approach, which involves a device that looks and wears like earphones attached to a battery-powered generator, works by stimulating a nerve just below the surface of the skin.

Sepsis occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection anywhere in the body, such as the chest, urinary tract, or even due to a cut in the skin.

This overreaction floods the body with cytokines, compounds that cause blood vessels to dilate, leading to a dramatic drop in blood pressure.

This cytokine rush also causes inflammation that can lead to life-threatening damage to organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver.

Zapping the ears with a mild electrical current can help combat the potentially deadly condition sepsis. File image

Sepsis occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection anywhere in the body, such as the chest, urinary tract, or even due to a cut in the skin.  File image

Sepsis occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection anywhere in the body, such as the chest, urinary tract, or even due to a cut in the skin. File image

The results of a small trial conducted in China show that the ear-zapping technique reduces levels of inflammatory molecules.

It also stimulates the release of anti-inflammatory molecules that can help slow or even stop the progression of the condition.

Sepsis affects nearly 250,000 people in the UK each year and leads to around 48,000 deaths.

Stimulating the vagus nerve in the ear could help Parkinson’s patients with their mobility, suggests a study from Nanjing Medical University in China.

Scientists tested the therapy in 22 patients whose gait was affected by the disease and found that zapping the nerve for 30 minutes twice a day improved gait speed and stride length in a week, the journal CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics reported.

It is thought that repeatedly activating the vagus nerve helps to improve muscle control in the lower body.

Doctors currently treat it with high doses of antibiotics to kill the bacteria causing the infection, and fluids to support blood pressure and restore blood flow to vital organs.

But with nearly 30 per cent of patients with sepsis dying from it, there is an urgent need for better treatments, according to the charity UK Sepsis Trust.

Researchers at Shandong University in China launched a clinical trial after animal studies suggested the tickling treatment could reduce the sudden inflammation that overwhelms the body during sepsis.

The device is worn like an earphone that, once in position in each ear, stimulates a branch of the vagus nerve – a major nerve that runs from the chest to the brain (with a branch just under the skin in the center of the ear) involved in controlling everything from swallowing to controlling heart rate and digestion.

Stimulation of the vagus nerve has become a powerful treatment for epilepsy and depression, and has shown promise in relieving the pain of cluster headaches (a severe type of headache) and osteoarthritis caused by wear and tear on the joints.

But it usually involves surgery to implant a battery-powered generator just below the collarbone.

The earclips can be a non-invasive, safer alternative.

In the recent trial, researchers selected 20 patients who had been admitted to intensive care with sepsis.

They all wore the headphones, but only half received electrical stimulation – 30 minutes a day, five days in a row; the others acted as a control group.

The results, published in the journal Brain Stimulation, showed that patients who received the ear zap treatment experienced significant reductions in levels of inflammatory chemicals — specifically one called TNF-alpha, a type of protein that floods the bodies of sepsis patients.

They also experienced a surge in levels of anti-inflammatory proteins that help limit the damage caused by sepsis, and had a lower risk of organ failure compared to the control group.

What’s in a name?

The origin of disorders with quirky names. This week: Don Juan break

A Don Juan fracture is a break in the calcaneus bone, or heel bone, which lies at the back of the foot below the three bones that make up the ankle joint.

“This name is said to come from legends about Lotharios fleeing their mistresses’ bedrooms to escape being caught, often jumping out of windows and breaking their heels,” explains Kumar Kunasingam, an orthopedic surgeon at Croydon Health Services NHS Trust.

“Today I see this kind of injury more often after people fall off ladders, especially when doing odd jobs or gardening, or picking up Christmas decorations from the loft.”

He adds, “These falls can lead to quite catastrophic injuries to both the bones and the soft tissue around them. Often the broken bones are not repaired by surgery alone and must be kept in place and immobilized in an Aircast boot for six to 12 weeks.”

Patients may then require rehabilitation to ‘re-learn’ how to walk with the help of physiotherapists.

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1690252074 80 Zapping your ears with an electric current could help combat

Nutrients that work best when consumed together. This week: Selenium and sulforaphane

Sulforaphane is a powerful chemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and kale.

Studies suggest it may be up to 13 times more potent at fighting cancer-causing free radical molecules when consumed with the mineral selenium than when used alone. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, crab, fish and poultry and also has some cancer prevention properties.

The benefit of consuming them together may be that they have overlapping mechanisms that increase the activity of certain enzymes.

TRY: Turkey and watercress sandwich; raw or steamed broccoli sprinkled with chopped Brazil nuts; or cauliflower rice stir-fried with salmon.

The theory is that vagus stimulation helps by somehow “resetting” the immune system, stopping the overreaction that leads to sepsis.

Dr. Ron Daniels, an NHS consultant on intensive care in Birmingham and executive director of the UK Sepsis Trust, said: ‘This is a small study, but the results are interesting and deserve further investigation.

“Sepsis has a high mortality rate and any intervention that seems promising deserves more research, especially if it is non-invasive and likely to be relatively inexpensive, as in this case.”