Are those earmuffs, or beermuffs?

Japanese researchers have developed a pair of earmuffs that can measure real-time changes in your blood alcohol concentration. Turns out our ears give off as much alcohol as our breath, so the earmuffs could be an alternative to a breathalyser.

The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, was led by Kohji Mitsubayashi from the Tokyo Medical and Dental University. It presents a proof of concept, describing a modified pair of commercial earmuffs with an ethanol vapour sensor that detects alcohol on the skin, then causes a light to glow at different intensities depending on booze level.

Image 1 ear mugs
A schematic image of the monitoring system for external ear-derived ethanol that consists of earmuffs and an ethanol vapor sensor (bio-sniffer). Credit: Mitsubayashi lab, Tokyo Medical and Dental University.

The team used the device to monitor ethanol vapour emitted by the ears of three male volunteers – who had consumed alcohol with a concentration of 0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight – over 140 minutes. The results were compared with breath test results.

The data collected showed that the concentration changes in ethanol released through the ears was comparable to that measured on the breath.

The average highest concentration of ethanol on the breath was 148 parts per billion – double the concentration released through the skin of the hand.

“These findings suggest the suitability of the external ear for blood ethanol monitoring,” the authors say in their paper – so maybe when you roll up to a roadside ‘breath’ test in the future, the police will pop a pair of earmuffs on your head to check if you’re plastered.

The team also notes that the monitoring system could be applicable to detecting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) other than ethanol: “Using this versatility, we will further investigate external ear-derived VOCs for non-invasive and real-time assessment of metabolisms and disease screening.”

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