A pioneering brain pressure test using a special set of headphones that can detect life-threatening head injuries and infections without the need for surgery or painful spinal procedures has been developed by doctors.
The technique being used by Southampton General Hospital, which involves a patient wearing the headphones with an ear plug linked to a computer, enables doctors to measure fluid pressure in the skull - known as intracranial pressure (ICP) - via a channel which links the inner ear with the brain.
As fluids in the ear and brain are connected, a change in pressure in the brain is reflected by a corresponding change in the ear - which can signal the need for intervention.
It is hoped the headphones can help to be used to diagnosis and treat conditions such as meningitis and head trauma injuries, as well as the monitoring and management of patients who are in comas.
The device, called the cerebral and cochlear fluid pressure (CCFP) analyser, is also being adapted by Nasa to analyse brain pressure levels in astronauts to help tackle space-related visual problems and sickness.
Doctors also believe it could be used to distinguish between head injuries and post traumatic stress disorder in soldiers returning from combat zones.
Dr Robert Marchbanks, a consultant clinical scientist, said: "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."