How tickling your ear could defeat indigestion: A clip-on device that stimulates the nerve with a mild electric shock reduces some symptoms by up to a third, a study shows
A device that tickles a nerve in the ear could treat chronic indigestion. Stimulating the nerve with a gentle jolt of electricity reduces some symptoms by up to a third, according to a new study.
The attachable device targets the vagus nerve, the largest in the body that runs from the brain to the colon and is involved in regulating digestion, mood, blood pressure and breathing.
Stimulating this nerve was previously used to combat conditions such as high blood pressure and depression.
Usually, a matchbox-sized generator is implanted in the chest and connected to the nerve where it goes from the chest to the neck. The patient activates the generator by moving a handheld device over it.
The attachable device targets the vagus nerve, the largest in the body that runs from the brain to the colon and is involved in regulating digestion, mood, blood pressure and breathing [File photo]
The benefit of ear tickling is that it does the same job without requiring doctors to surgically implant a device.
Scientists at Nanjing Medical University in China used the device to treat 36 patients with functional dyspepsia, a chronic form of digestive disorder thought to affect 10 to 30 percent of adults at some point in their lives.
Symptoms include abdominal pain, bloating, excessive belching or nausea after meals, and an early feeling of fullness when eating.
Although the causes are not clear, women appear to be more at risk. Common triggers include painkillers such as ibuprofen, smoking, and anxiety or depression.
The stomach is supposed to relax and expand to accommodate food, but for people with functional dyspepsia, this can be compromised.
The signals that tell the stomach to empty food into the small intestine may also not work properly, causing food to back up and gas to build up.
The diagnosis is often made by eliminating other causes, such as B. gastric ulcers can be excluded. But the lack of an obvious explanation means many can suffer symptoms long-term. Treatments include prokinetic drugs, which stimulate the stomach to move food to the intestines.
During the most recent study, scientists attached an electrode to the crease of each ear — just above the ear canal — and a low-level current, generated by a handheld generator, was passed through the nerve for two seconds, three seconds apart. Each session lasted 30 minutes.
Another group had a current-generating electrode attached to one of their arms, where the vagus nerve doesn’t reach.
The results, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology, showed that food digestion and anxiety improved by up to 30 percent in the earzapper group and reduced symptoms of bloating, gas and nausea. There were also improvements in the way food traveled through the digestive system, and volunteers also reported an increase in appetite while their depression scores halved. Those given arm stimulation saw no such improvement. dr John Mason, consultant gastroenterologist at Trafford General Hospital in Manchester, said: “This patient population can be very difficult to manage and often medication doesn’t help much.
“It’s very interesting that non-invasive nerve stimulation like this can change the way the stomach moves and has the potential to become a treatment once more studies are done.”
Developed by an ophthalmologist, the Blepha EyeBag is a reusable heat mask designed to relieve sore, dry eyes. Warm it in the microwave for 30 seconds, then place it on closed eyelids for five to 10 minutes to release the oil from the Meibomian glands and get quick relief.
Developed by an ophthalmologist, the Blepha EyeBag is a reusable heat mask designed to relieve sore, dry eyes