Earwax and Mental Health
Earwax plays an important role in keeping us healthy. We may not always be aware of the benefits, but earwax actually helps protect our bodies against bacteria. The scientific name, cerumen, is produced by the outermost part of the ear canal. The study done in this article outlines 37 participants who exhibited a build-up of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol is otherwise known as the “fight or flight” hormone, sending out alarm signals to the brain when responding to stress.
Cortisol levels can affect many different areas of the body, and these worsen with age. For older adults, earwax builds up and can have serious health consequences. Aside from hearing impairment, earwax buildup can lead to mental fog and balance issues, potentially leading to falls and bodily harm. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels also increase one’s risk for depression, mental illness, and lower life expectancy. If someone is exhibiting symptoms of depression, this quick cortisol test could potentially determine if the person would benefit from taking antidepressants or not.
While cortisol levels can be measured with a blood test, Dr. Andres Herane-Vives developed a new type of swab (incorporating a “brake”), which will not damage the eardrum. Testing the cortisol levels with the swab may be able to provide physicians with new information that they can use for a mental health diagnosis. “This could open the door to better ways of diagnosing psychiatric conditions including depression”, said Dr. Andres.
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