Measuring skull pressure without the headache

Space research has developed a new way of measuring the pressure inside your skull using simple sound waves from headphones. The device is an effective early-warning system for patients recovering from head injury or brain surgery.

Just like blood pressure, our bodies control the fluid pressure around the brain to cushion it from hitting the skull.

Astronauts rely on their body's pressure control system to regulate fluid build-up in orbit, so space agencies are keen to understand how it works and adapts to .

Monitoring 'intracranial pressure' is not straightforward – there are many techniques but they are cumbersome, invasive and require professional operation.

In 1994, Paul Avan from the University of Auvergne in Clermont-Ferrand, France, investigated the possibility of measuring changes in pressure by looking instead at a connected area: inner-ear pressure.

Parabolic flight experiment.

He developed a device that beams sound into the ear and listens to the echoes to calculate the change in pressure between readings.

Paul was working on this system to measure intracranial pressure when France's CNES asked to use it on a parabolic aircraft flight during 22 seconds of weightlessness.

Measuring intracranial pressure.

After this promising start, it was improved during an ESA bedrest study organised with the DLR German Aerospace Center last year.

"ESA was instrumental in helping to improve the system and make it smaller," says Paul.

The result is a computer about the size of a portable hard disk that produces and analyses the sound and can be used even in such as a hospital emergency ward.

The device will be tested further in 2013 at the international Concordia research base in Antarctica. In an ESA-sponsored experiment, crewmembers will record pressure changes in their skulls while living at the isolated base 3200 m high.

Just like astronauts in space, crews living in Concordia suffer from headaches due to the and lack of sleep. Studying intracranial pressure will give clues on how to combat the pain and ultimately help people in more habitable regions on Earth suffering from headaches.

Paul concludes, "If it works in Concordia, it will work anywhere."

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Voyage to the most isolated base on Earth

Jan 30, 2012

Alexander Kumar, the next ESA-sponsored crewmember to stay in Concordia, has arrived safely at the research base in Antarctica. The voyage to one of the remotest places on Earth takes even longer than the ...

Relation of poor sleep quality to resistant hypertension

Sep 21, 2012

For people who already have high blood pressure, insomnia can have serious consequences, according to a new study presented at the American Heart Association's High Blood Pressure Research 2012 Scientific Sessions.

Recommended for you

Diet affects men's and women's gut microbes differently

4 hours ago

The microbes living in the guts of males and females react differently to diet, even when the diets are identical, according to a study by scientists from The University of Texas at Austin and six other institutions published ...

Researchers explore what happens when heart cells fail

5 hours ago

Through a grant from the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation, Biomedical Engineering Associate Professor Naomi Chesler will embark upon a new collaborative research project to better understand ...

Stem cells from nerves form teeth

7 hours ago

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have discovered that stem cells inside the soft tissues of the tooth come from an unexpected source, namely nerves. These findings are now being published in the journal Nature and co ...

User comments