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Earrings That Track Your Wellness

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MONDAY, Feb. 12, 2024 (HealthDay News) — A new pair of earrings have joined the plethora of wearable technology that can help track wellness, researchers report.

The Thermal Earring continuously monitors a user’s earlobe temperature, according to the University of Washington (UW) researchers who developed it.

The earring outperformed a smartwatch at sensing skin temperature during periods of rest, according to results from a small-scale study of six users.

Such readings could help users monitor signs of illness, stress, eating, exercise and ovulation, researchers said.

“I wear a smartwatch to track my personal health, but I’ve found that a lot of people think smartwatches are unfashionable or bulky and uncomfortable,” said co-lead author Qiuyue (Shirley) Xue, a doctoral student at the university’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering in Seattle.

The smart earring prototype is similar in size and weight to a small paperclip and has a 28-day battery life, researchers said.

A magnetic clip attaches one temperature sensor to the wearer’s ear, while another sensor dangles about an inch below it to estimate room temperature.

The earrings can be decorated with fashion designs made of resin or with gemstones without affecting their accuracy, researchers said.

“We found that sensing the skin temperature on the lobe, instead of a hand or wrist, was much more accurate,” Xue said in a university news release. “It also gave us the option to have part of the sensor dangle to separate ambient room temperature from skin temperature.”

Creating a wearable small enough to be an earring but robust enough that it wouldn’t often require a charge presented an engineering challenge, researchers said.

“Typically, if you want power to last longer, you should have a bigger battery. But then you sacrifice size. Making it wireless also demands more energy,” said co-lead author Yujia (Nancy) Liu. She did the research while pursuing a master’s degree at UW and is now at the University of California, San Diego.

The team figured out a way to fit a Bluetooth chip, a battery, two temperature sensors and an antenna into the earring by tweaking the way it connects with a device to deliver data.

Instead of directly pairing with a device, the earring uses Bluetooth advertising mode – the transmissions used to show a Bluetooth device can be paired.

After reading a person’s temperature and passing the data along, the earring goes into deep sleep to save power.

Researchers also explored the usefulness of earlobe temperature to guide medical and research efforts.

One study of five patients with fever found that their average earlobe temperature rose nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit compared with the temperatures of 20 healthy patients – displaying the earring’s potential for fever monitoring.

“In medicine, we often monitor fevers to assess response to therapy — to see, for instance, if an antibiotic is working on an infection,” said co-author Dr. Mastafa Springston, a clinical instructor of emergency medicine at the UW School of Medicine. “Longer term monitoring is a way to increase sensitivity of capturing fevers, since they can rise and fall throughout the day.”

Earlobe temperature also tends to vary more than core body temperature. In tests, the earring successfully detected temperature variations associated with eating, exercise, stress and ovulation, researchers said.

“Current wearables like Apple Watch and Fitbit have temperature sensors, but they provide only an average temperature for the day, and their temperature readings from wrists and hands are too noisy to track ovulation,” Xue said. “So we wanted to explore unique applications for the earring, especially applications that might be attractive to women and anyone who cares about fashion.”

Researchers next plan to train the earring’s algorithms to better fit each potential use, and to perform more extensive testing.

Future iterations might also include heart rate and activity monitoring, Xue said. The devices could potentially be powered by solar energy or the kinetic energy created by the earring swaying.

“Eventually, I want to develop a jewelry set for health monitoring,” Xue said. “The earrings would sense activity and health metrics such as temperature and heart rate, while a necklace might serve as an electrocardiogram monitor for more effective heart health data.”

The study was published Feb. 12 in the Proceedings of the ACM on Interactive Mobile Wearable and Ubiquitous Technologies.

More information

The University of California, Berkeley, has more on wearable devices.

SOURCE: University of Washington, news release, Feb. 7, 2024

What This Means For You

Earrings could one day help people monitor their health and fitness.


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