Image: Patented device measures temperature and other vital parameters of the ear canal (Photo courtesy of Eurac Research)
In emergency situations, such as when the victim is suspected to be hypothermic, it is essential to know their core temperatures as accurately as possible for proper triage, but this information is not always easy to obtain – current thermometers are not accurate enough, especially in raw environmental conditions, and the probes used in hospitals, for example the esophagus, usually cannot be inserted into the field. In addition, victims are often uncooperative, the spaces are uncomfortable and the equipment one can wear is very limited, such as during a rescue operation with a helicopter or the scene of a car accident. Now a patented, space-saving, non-invasive and easy-to-use instrument that measures core temperature, oxygen saturation and heart rate from the ear canal could provide a solution to this problem.
Eurac Research (Bolzano, Italy) has devised MedSENS – an instrument that looks like a headset for listening to music and uses sensors placed in the external ear canal to measure various vital parameters. MedSENS consists of an earplug-sized probe containing innovative measurement sensors; the rescuer pushes it into the victim’s ear, then covers it with an outer ear cushion that insulates against heat and cold and features a small screen that displays the measured values in real time. In addition to body temperature, MedSENS also measures heart rate and oxygen saturation, providing a complete picture of essential vital parameters. The data can then be sent wirelessly to any other device connected by rescue teams.
The instrument has been tested for over a year and has undergone numerous adjustments. In the terraXcube extreme environment simulator, two rounds of experiments took place with a total of 40 people. During simulations of interventions between -10 and 20 °C, rescuers had to use the device; the ‘victims’ were monitored by both MedSENS and a traditional esophageal tube previously inserted into the ambulatory.
“Our tests had a dual purpose,” explains Alessandro Micarelli, an otolaryngologist and researcher at Eurac Research. “On the one hand to test whether the use of the instrument was easy, even with, for example, hands that were suffering from the biting cold; on the other to check whether the MedSENS readings matched those of the previously placed depth probes.”
“Thanks to the experience of some of us in mountain rescue and emergency services, we knew we wanted a non-invasive and easy-to-use instrument that combined temperature measurement with oxygen saturation measurement,” said Michela Masè, a physicist and researcher at Eurac Research. “There are already devices on the market that can be inserted into the ear, but they are too sensitive to external temperatures and therefore not reliable, so that’s where we started.”