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Tiny Device in Ear Canal Monitors Heart Health in Real Time

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 17 Jan 2024
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Image: Research shows how a tiny device in the ear canal can monitor heart health (Photo courtesy of Danilo Mandic)
Image: Research shows how a tiny device in the ear canal can monitor heart health (Photo courtesy of Danilo Mandic)

Wearables such as smartwatches that are capable of monitoring functions can provide details of an individual’s heartbeat but cannot accurately and unobtrusively measure the electrical current of the heart, which can help diagnose an irregular heartbeat. Now, a study has shown for the first time that tiny devices, situated in a single ear, can effectively capture electrocardiogram (ECG) data in real time. This innovation marks a significant advancement toward monitoring heart health more precisely.

The research, conducted by a team at Imperial College London (London, UK), builds on their previous work where they identified the ear as a viable location for monitoring brain functions and vital signs through "hearable devices" – wearables that fit comfortably within the ear canal. The team also pioneered an ear-ECG technology, where electrodes placed in both ears can generate valid electrocardiograms. This new study, however, explored the potential of using hearables for cardiac health monitoring from just one ear, a concept not yet thoroughly established. To validate their approach, the Imperial College team examined ECG signals and mapped the chest-ECG potential across the ear, neck, and scalp areas. They then tested the feasibility of single ear-ECG measurements under real-world recording conditions.

The study successfully measured cardiac cycles using electrodes placed around the ear region, confirming the accuracy of ECG signals obtained from a single ear-ECG in terms of their shape and timing. The researchers envision that this technology could eventually be used for continuous 24/7 monitoring of various groups such as patients and athletes. It could also be employed to assess the impact of physical strain and stress in different workplace environments, offering a more non-invasive and continuous method of monitoring heart health.

“The significance of our findings lies in the high practicality and usability of the single ear-ECG,” said Metin Yarici, lead author of the study. “We believe that this method holds great promise in bringing continuous cardiac motoring out of a clinical setting and into society, and with it, new insights into heart functioning for healthy and patient populations alike. An important next step in this research is to test the feasibility of detecting specific abnormalities in heart function, such as atrial fibrillation or myocardial infarction, via the single ear-ECG.”

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