Doctors Use Headphones to Measure Intracranial Pressure

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Until recently, detecting intracranial pressure after a head trauma required surgery or a painful needle injection. Now, doctors at Southampton Hospital have developed a pair of headphones that can avoid surgery and get the patient to treatment faster.

After a traumatic head injury, like a fall or car accident, fast diagnosis and treatment is key. Trauma centers need to be ready to react to prevent swelling from causing secondary head injuries and further disability.

For years, the need for fast response as been at odds with the invasive methods available to measure intracranial pressure (ICP). The traditional ways to detect pressure on the brain was to drill into a patient’s skull and insert a probe, or to pull fluid from the patient’s spinal cord with a large needle. According to Dr. Robert Marchbanks, consultant clinical scientist at Southampton General Hospital:

“Current methods for testing ICP require procedures to be carried out under sedation or anaesthetic, which means they are limited to the most severe cases and those with less obvious initial symptoms often go undetected until their symptoms have worsened.”

That’s what makes the device being tested at Southampton so important: it is not invasive. The “cerebral and cochlear fluid pressure (CCFP) analyser” is a pressure sensor connected to an ear bud headphone. It can pick up changes in the patient’s intracranial pressure caused by swelling.

“However, as our device does not require a patient to do anything other than wear a set of headphones with an ear plug, it has the potential to provide rapid, accurate and safe assessments to patients in much larger numbers than is currently possible.”

The device will help treating physicians detect swelling sooner and intervene to avoid blockages in blood flow which can starve sections of the brain of oxygen. Dr. Marchbanks explains:

“We know that high pressure inside the skull resulting from injuries and infections can be fatal, so it is essential it is detected as early as possible to avoid exacerbating symptoms and ensure treatment can begin promptly.”

The headphones have military and scientific uses as well. The military is using a similar device to distinguish head injuries from post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers coming home from combat. NASA is adapting CCFP devices to monitor astronauts dealing with visual problems and space sickness.

The doctors at Southampton are focusing on making the device available to patients. Right now, they are testing healthy volunteers to determine the normal range of intracranial pressure.

Once the device has been approved, doctors will be better able to identify unhealthy brain pressure in their traumatic brain injury patients and get them the treatment they need sooner and avoid serious the consequences of secondary injuries.

David Christensen is a brain injury expert at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He and his team have been representing TBI patients against the auto insurance companies for over twenty years. If you or someone you know has suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of an auto accident, contact Christensen Law today for a free consultation.

Image Source: Southern Daily Echo