Headphones are all you need to detect alcohol levels

A headphone-like device has been designed to measure blood alcohol levels using a non-invasive method. It was studied by a team of Japanese researchers.

No breathalyzer or blood test to detect blood alcohol levels, but a simple device similar to a pair of headphones. It's a new, non-invasive method developed by Japanese researchers. The study was published in Scientific Reports and explains how to detect the blood alcohol level through an object placed on the ears. The answer lies in the volatile organic compounds that our bodies release on a daily basis.

How "headphones" work to detect alcohol levels

The human body, every day, releases hundreds of different volatile organic compound (VOC) vapors, some of which are related to our metabolism, while others are the result of a pathological process that can increase the release of different VOCs from the skin. This system is also the cause of the particular odor that some people give off when they get sick, which is caused precisely by changes in the secretions of these vapors.

Even when you drink alcoholic beverages excessively, it happens to have the so-called "alcohol stench". This odor is caused precisely by the ethanol vapor that the skin releases when levels of the substance increase in the bloodstream. The Japanese study started from this very process to develop a non-invasive system for detecting alcohol levels in the body. To do so, they measured the amount of ethanol vapor released from the ears, a part of the body chosen to limit interference that could be caused by, for example, sweat glands. Kohji Mitsubayashi and his team then modified a pair of standard commercial headphones with a sensor to detect ethanol vapor.

The sensor in the headphones emits light whenever it detects ethanol vapor and provides a mechanism to calculate the level of ethanol vapor in the blood. The brighter the light, the higher the alcohol concentration. The researchers monitored the ethanol vapor released from the ears of three men who had consumed alcoholic beverages with a concentration of 0.4 grams per kilogram of body weight for 140 minutes. At the same time, they also assessed the ethanol concentrations in each participant's breath using a different ethanol sensor and a reagent that changes color when it comes into contact with alcohol to compare the results of the new device with other already known methods of ethanol detection.

Their findings showed that the "headset" device was able to detect a similar concentration of alcohol to that recorded by the other tests. In addition, the researchers showed that the highest level of ethanol detected by the ears was twice as high as that previously detected by alternative methods such as skin analysis of the hands, suggesting that the new device could be a more accurate alternative to other types of breathalyzers.

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