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Earmuffs can measure blood alcohol levels through the skin

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Suspected drink drivers could soon be told to put on a pair of earmuffs by police, if a new device comes to fruition.  

Japanese scientists have developed a pair of earmuffs that can estimate blood alcohol levels based on ‘transcutaneous gas’ – gas released through the skin.

The earmuffs, presented as a proof-of-concept in a new study, detect ethanol compounds in transcutaneous gas released by the ears.   

In trials, the device measured alcohol intake as well as a traditional breathalyser, although the process took a lot longer – more than two hours, compared with what can be just a few minutes for breathalysers when stopped on the roadside. 

A schematic image of the monitoring system for external ear-derived ethanol that consists of earmuffs and an ethanol vapor sensor (bio-sniffer)

But a breathalyser test tends to be much more invasive, often requiring a tube to be inserted into the mouth.

Also, products such as mouthwash or breath spray can ‘fool’ some breathalysers by significantly raising test results. Listerine mouthwash, for example, contains 27 per cent alcohol. 

It also measures other chemical compounds – acetone (a marker of lipid metabolism) and acetaldehyde (a known carcinogen detection in the body after drinking). 

The device has been developed by a Japanese team led by Kohji Mitsubayashi at Tokyo Medical and Dental University.  

‘We have investigated the possibility of external ears for stable and real-time measurement of ethanol vapour,’ they say in their study. 

‘For stable monitoring of transcutaneous gas, finding a body part with little interference on the measurement is essential.

‘Transcutaneous gas is more suitable to real-time and continuous assessment than breath.’  

ALCOHOL AND BREATHALYSERS  

Alcohol, also known as ethanol, is the main ingredient of alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine, and liquor. 

When you have an alcoholic drink, it is absorbed into your bloodstream and processed by the liver. 

As the alcohol in the blood travels to the lungs, some of it will evaporate into the air in the tiny lung sacs known as alveoli, and be exhaled from the body (‘alcohol breath’).  

It is this alcohol that a breathalyser is designed to measure. This is why it is necessary to measure deep lung air when using a breathalyser.

While a breathalyser gives fast results, it is not as accurate as measuring alcohol in the blood.  

So no breath test is as accurate as a blood or urine test.  

Source: NHSGGC/Breathalyzer.co.uk  

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The device consists of a modified pair of commercial earmuffs that collect gas released through the skin of a person’s ears, and an ethanol vapour sensor. 

If the sensor detects ethanol vapour in the gas, it releases light of different intensities, depending on the ethanol concentrations detected.

In experiments, the authors used their device to continuously monitor ethanol vapour released through the ears of three male volunteers.

Firstly, base ethanol concentrations from the transcutaneous ear gas was measured for 10 minutes without drinking alcohol. 

Then the volunteers drank alcohol at the concentration of 0.4 g per kg body weight within five minutes, and the measurement continued for another 140 minutes.  

The ethanol concentrations of the volunteers’ breath were also measured at regular intervals using an additional ethanol vapour sensor and a device containing reagents that change colour when exposed to ethanol.

The authors observed that changes in the concentration of ethanol released through the ears and breath were similar over time for all volunteers.

As previous research found that ethanol concentrations in the breath and blood are correlated, this indicates that the device could be used instead of a breathalyser to estimate blood alcohol levels.  

Results from the earmuffs were comparable to a breathalyser – but a breathalyser test is much more invasive, requiring a tube to be inserted into the mouth. Pictured, an Australian officer using breathalyser on driver Products such as mouthwash or breath spray can ‘fool’ some breathalysers by significantly raising test results. Listerine mouthwash, for example, contains 27 per cent alcohol.

The average highest concentration of ethanol released through the ears was found to be 148 parts per billion.

Previous devices have used the hand to measure blood alcohol levels as a less invasive alternative to putting a tube into someone’s mouth. 

But 148 parts per billion is double the concentration previously reported to be released through the skin of the hand, the researchers say, suggesting the ears may be more suitable.  

Also, sweat coming from sweat glands in the hand can interfere with readings, the researchers point out. In comparison, an external ear canal has no eccrine sweat gland.

‘Each body part has different density of sweat glands and epidermis layers of the skin,’ they say. ‘Therefore, it is important to choose a proper body region.’ 

The authors also propose that the device could be used to measure other gases released through the skin, for example in disease screening.

The study has been published in Scientific Reports.  

DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK

One screening tool used widely by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Tests). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organisation, the 10-question test is considered to be the gold standard in helping to determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.

The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.

To complete it, answer each question and note down the corresponding score.

YOUR SCORE:

0-7: You are within the sensible drinking range and have a low risk of alcohol-related problems.

Over 8: Indicate harmful or hazardous drinking.

8-15: Medium level of risk. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting down (see below for tips).

16-19: Higher risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level, as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.

20 and over: Possible dependence. Your drinking is already causing you problems, and you could very well be dependent. You should definitely consider stopping gradually or at least reduce your drinking. You should seek professional help to ascertain the level of your dependence and the safest way to withdraw from alcohol.

Severe dependence may need medically assisted withdrawal, or detox, in a hospital or a specialist clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms in the first 48 hours needing specialist treatment.

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European Space Agency is sending a mission to study Venus after NASA announced two last week

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Just days after NASA announced it was sending two missions to study Venus, the European Space Agency has joined the party.

On Thursday, the ESA said it will send a probe, known as EnVision, to study ‘Earth’s evil twin,’ targeting a launch in the early 2030s.

NASA’s missions to the second planet in the Solar System, DAVINCI+ and VERITAS, will launch within the next 10 years.

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‘A new era in the exploration of our closest, yet wildly different, Solar System neighbor awaits us,’ said Günther Hasinger, ESA Director of Science, in a statement

‘Together with the newly announced NASA-led Venus missions, we will have an extremely comprehensive science program at this enigmatic planet well into the next decade.’   

In 2019, researchers said Venus may have had stable temperatures in its past and could have had ‘liquid water’ for 2 to 3 billion years, similar to Earth.

Approximately 700 million years ago, it underwent a ‘dramatic transformation’ -possibly due to volcanic eruptions – that completely altered the planet and resulted in what is now considered a hellish atmosphere. 

Venus presently has a surface temperature of 864 degrees Fahrenheit and in some parts of the planet, the ground glows red.

It also rotates backwards, with the sun rising in the west and setting in the east. 

The European Space Agency said it will send a probe, known as Envision, to study Venus, joining NASA’s announcement from earlier this month

The mission, targeting a launch in the early 2030s, will help explain why Venus turned into a boiling hot planet, sometimes referred to as ‘Earth’s evil twin’ 

Both space agencies will work together on their respective missions, notably sharing instruments. 

‘All three of the missions are highly complementary,’ Dr. Philippa Mason, an Envision science team-member from Imperial College London, UK, told BBC News

‘EnVision’s VenSAR will provide a unique perspective with its targeted studies of the Venus surface, enriching the roadmap of Venus exploration,’ Adriana Ocampo, EnVision Program Scientist at NASA HQ, said in a separate statement released by NASA.  

EnVision is expected to be focused on Venus’s nature, looking at the planet’s ‘tesserae,’ the planet’s equivalent of Earth’s continents.

It will also study the planet’s underground layers and monitor for trace gases in the atmosphere, looking for signs of active volcanic activity.  

‘ESA’s EnVision mission will provide unparalleled high-resolution imaging and polarimetry capabilities,’ said Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division. 

EnVision (pictured), could launch as early as 2031, but may also go into orbit in 2032 or 2033, the ESA said

EnVision will take around 15 months to reach Venus and then spend 16 months orbiting the planet

EnVision can orbit Venus in 92 minutes at an altitude between 220 km and 540 km 

‘High-resolution images of many dynamic processes at Mars profoundly changed the way we thought about the Red Planet and images at similar scales have the potential to do the same for Venus.’   

From here, the ESA will move to the ‘Definition Phase’ of the project, with the orbiter’s design and instruments being finalized.

After that, a contractor will be selected to build and test EnVision, with BBC reporting that Airbus UK ‘is in a strong position’ to assemble the final probe.

The earliest it can launch is 2031, with 2032 and 2033 also possibilities for the 15-month journey.

EnVision will help researchers learn why Venus is so different from Earth, if it’s still volcanically active and if it can teach us about planets outside the Solar System

After arriving at Venus, it will spend 16 months orbiting the planet, entering a ‘quasi-polar’ orbit with an altitude of between 220 km and 540 km traveling around the planet in 92 minutes, the ESA added.

The first of NASA’s two missions, DAVINCI+ (Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging) will measure Venus’ atmosphere to understand how it formed and evolved and determine whether it ever had an ocean.

It will also look for noble gases — such as helium, neon, argon and krypton — in its atmosphere and find out why it is a ‘runaway hothouse,’ when compared to Earth.     

The other mission, VERITAS (Venus Emissivity, Radio Science, InSAR, Topography, and Spectroscopy) will map the surface of Venus and look at its geologic history in an effort to find out why it developed so much differently than Earth.

It will use a synthetic aperture radar and ‘chart surface elevations over nearly the entire planet to create 3D reconstructions of topography’ to see whether plate tectonics and volcanic activity are still happening on the planet, NASA added.   

In 2020, scientists caused a stir when they said that trace amounts of phosphine gas, a colorless gas that is naturally produced mainly by certain microorganisms in the absence of oxygen, were discovered.

Those hopes may have been dashed however, when a separate study said that it wasn’t phosphine that was detected, but ‘ordinary’ sulfur dioxide.    

CARBON DIOXIDE AND SULPHURIC ACID DROPLETS FEATURE IN THE ATMOSPHERE OF VENUS

Venus’s atmosphere consists mainly of carbon dioxide, with clouds of sulphuric acid droplets. 

The thick atmosphere traps the sun’s heat, resulting in surface temperatures higher than 470°C (880°F).

The atmosphere has many layers with different temperatures. 

At the level where the clouds are, about 30 miles (50 km) up from the surface, it’s about the same temperature as on the surface of the Earth.

As Venus moves forward in its solar orbit while slowly rotating backwards on its axis, the top level of clouds zips around the planet every four Earth days.

They are driven by hurricane-force winds travelling at about 224 miles (360 km) per hour. 

Atmospheric lightning bursts light up these quick-moving clouds. 

Speeds within the clouds decrease with cloud height, and at the surface are estimated to be just a few miles (km) per hour.

On the ground, it would look like a very hazy, overcast day on Earth and the atmosphere is so heavy it would feel like you were one mile (1.6km) deep underwater.

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Health: Handheld device that zaps the NECK can boost focus and energy in sleep deprived people 

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The energy, focus and multitasking ability of sleep deprived people can be boosted by a handheld device that delivers an electric current to the neck, a study has found.

Researchers led from US-based firm Infoscitex tested on 20 sleep deprived adults a device originally designed to treat headaches that stimulates the vagus nerve.

They found that the stimulation boosted alertness for up to 19 hours overall in comparison to control subjects who were given only a placebo.

The vagus nerve — which is the longest in the autonomic nervous system — passes signals between the brain, digestive system and other organs. 

It has been linked to both mood and wellbeing, and electrical stimulation of the nerve has previously been shown to improve both memory and learning abilities.

According to device designer gammaCore, their vagal nerve stimulator delivers a mild shock, felt as a deep vibration in the neck and slight muscle contractions. 

The energy, focus and multitasking ability of sleep deprived people can be boosted by a handheld device (pictured) that delivers an electric current to the neck, a study has found 

‘Fatigue is a serious and unavoidable problem for many professions such as medicine, transportation, and the military,’ the team wrote in their paper (stock image)

According to device designer gammaCore, their vagal nerve stimulator delivers a mild shock, felt as a deep vibration in the neck and slight muscle contractions

The study was conducted by research psychologist Lindsey McIntire of Infoscitex — a firm based out of Dayton, Ohio — and her colleagues. 

‘Fatigue is a serious and unavoidable problem for many professions such as medicine, transportation, and the military,’ the team wrote in their paper.

Induced by sustained wakefulness, they added, fatigue ‘can cause slower reaction times, a reduced ability to multi task, and increases in laps.’

In their study, the researchers tested a commercially available vagus nerve stimulation device — the gammaCore — which has previously been approved for use in the treatment of headaches and migraines and is available on the NHS. 

The team recruited 40 active-duty personnel form the United States Air Force and had them stay awake for 34 hours — at nine points during which period each participant was tested for their ability to both stay alert as well as multitask. 

Twelve hours into the experiment, each volunteer was given a six-minute treatment to the neck of either an electric current via the gammaCore stimulator, or a placebo device that applied no current at all.

The shocks from the gammaCore device are very mild. 

‘It feels like a vibration combined with small, mild muscle contractions in the neck and lower jaw,’ said paper author and biomedical engineer Richard McKinley of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

‘The muscle contractions are gentle and are small enough they are not often detectible by the naked eye.’

The team tested a commercially available vagus nerve stimulator — the gammaCore, pictured — which has previously been approved for use in the treatment of headaches and migraines

The team recruited 40 active-duty personnel form the United States Air Force and had them stay awake for 34 hours — at nine points during which period each participant was tested for their ability to both stay alert as well as multitask. Twelve hours into the experiment, each volunteer was given a six-minute treatment to the neck of either an electric current via the gammaCore stimulator, or a placebo device that applied no current at all

The gammaCore device is available on the NHS for the treatment of cluster headaches by means of electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve inside the neck, as depicted

The team found that the subjects who were administered the vagus nerve stimulation both reported less fatigue and higher energy levels than those given the placebo — and performed better in the tests of focus and multi-tasking abilities.

The effects of the stimulation peaked at 12 hours after administration — with the benefits to the recipients levels of alternateness lasting for up to 19 hours overall.

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that vagus nerve stimulation via devices like the gammaCore may be able to provide an easy-to-use and safe method of mitigating the effects of sleep deprivation.

However, they cautioned, further tests will needed before the approach can be recommended for widespread implementation. 

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Communications Biology

ABOUT TIREDNESS AND FATIGUE 

Why am I tired all the time?

Feeling exhausted is so common that it has its own acronym, TATT, which stands for ‘tired all the time’.

We all feel tired from time to time. The reasons are usually obvious and include:

  • too many late nights
  • long hours spent at work
  • a baby keeping you up at night

But tiredness or exhaustion that goes on for a long time is not normal. It can affect your ability to get on and enjoy your life.

Unexplained tiredness is one of the most common reasons for people to see their GP.

Why you might be tired all the time

Before you see a GP, you may want to work out how you became tired in the first place.

It can be helpful to think about:

  • parts of your life, such as work and family, that might be particularly tiring
  • any events that may have triggered your tiredness, such as bereavement or a relationship break-up
  • how your lifestyle may be making you tired

A GP will look at the following causes of tiredness:

  • psychological causes
  • physical causes
  • lifestyle causes

Psychological causes of tiredness

Psychological causes of tiredness are much more common than physical causes.

Most psychological causes lead to poor sleep or insomnia, both of which cause daytime tiredness.

Psychological causes include:

Stress

The strains of daily life can worry most of us at some point. It’s also worth remembering that even positive events, such as moving house or getting married, can cause stress.

Emotional shock

A bereavement, redundancy or a relationship break-up can make you feel tired and exhausted.

Depression

If you feel sad, low and lacking in energy, and you also wake up tired, you may have depression.

See your GP if you think you are depressed.

Anxiety

If you have constant uncontrollable feelings of anxiety, you may have what doctors call generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) in adults.

As well as feeling worried and irritable, people with GAD often feel tired. See a GP, as medication and talking therapies can help.

If you think your tiredness may be a result of low mood or anxiety, try this short audio guide to dealing with your sleep problems.

Physical causes of tiredness

There are several health conditions that can make you feel tired or exhausted.

These include:

  • iron deficiency anaemia
  • underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • sleep apnoea

Tiredness can also be the result of:

  • pregnancy – particularly in the first 12 weeks
  • being overweight or obese – your body has to work harder to do everyday activities
  • being underweight – poor muscle strength can make you tire more easily
  • cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy
  • carbon monoxide poisoning – especially if your gas boiler has not been serviced regularly
  • side effects of medicines and some herbal remedies

If you have been feeling constantly tired for more than 4 weeks, it’s a good idea to see your GP so they can confirm or rule out a medical condition that could be causing your tiredness. 

Lifestyle causes of tiredness

In today’s 24/7 ‘always on’ world, we often try to cram too much into our daily lives.

And to try to stay on top of things, we sometimes consume too much alcohol or caffeine, or eat sugary and high-fat snacks on the go rather than sitting down for a proper meal.

The main lifestyle causes of tiredness include:

Alcohol

Drinking too much interferes with the quality of your sleep. Stick to the guidelines of no more than 14 units a week for both men and women.

Exercise

Too much or too little exercise can affect how tired you feel. 

Caffeine

Too much of this stimulant, found in tea, coffee, colas and energy drinks, can upset sleep and make you feel wound-up as well as tired.

Try decaffeinated tea and coffee, or gradually cut out caffeine altogether.

Night shifts

Night workers often find they get tired more easily. This is more likely if the timing of the shifts keeps changing.

Daytime naps

If you’re tired, you may nap during the day, which can make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep. 

SOURCE: NHS 

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Barbie: Mattel launches its first doll collection made out of 90% recycled ocean-bound plastic 

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She’s been a favourite with children since launching back in 1959, and now Barbie is trading her usual pink in for green.

Mattel, the company behind the iconic doll, has announced that it is launching its first doll collection made out of 90 per cent recycled ocean-bound plastic.

The collection includes three dolls as well as a range of accessories, which are all made from recycled plastic.

The launch is part of Mattel’s wider goal to achieve 100 per cent recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials across all its products and packaging by 2030.

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Mattel, the company behind the iconic doll, has announced that it is launching its first doll collection made out of 90 per cent recycled ocean-bound plastic

The collection is called Barbie Loves the Ocean, and includes three dolls, as well as a range of beach-themed accessories.

Lisa McKnight, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Barbie & Dolls at Mattel, said: ‘Our 62-year legacy is steeped in evolution, as we consistently drive forward initiatives designed to better reflect the world kids see around them.

‘Barbie Loves the Ocean is a prime example of sustainable innovations we’ll make as part of creating a future environment where kids can thrive.

‘We are passionate about leveraging the scope and reach of our global platform to inspire kids to be a part of the change they want to see in the world.’

The plastic parts are made from 90 per cent plastic sourced within 30 miles (50km) of waterways in areas lacking formal waste collection systems.

Each doll costs £12.99, while the accompanying Malibu Beach Shack will retail at £26.99 – all of which will go on sale at Tesco from September 2.

The new recycled dolls come shortly after Mattel launched Mattel PlayBack – a toy return programme designed to recover and reuse materials from old toys for future products.

And the firm isn’t the only one going ‘green’ with its toys.

Lego recently also announced a goal of using sustainable material in all its products and packaging by 2030, starting with its leaves, bushes and trees, which are now made with plastic sourced from sugarcane.

Meanwhile, MGA Entertainment, the firm behind the popular LOL Surprise! invites its customers to box any accumulated waste up and send it off to TerraCycle for recycling.

However, there is still more to do be done to make toys ‘greener.’ 

In 2012, the British Toy and Hobby Association commissioned a study to investigate recycling associated with toy packaging, and found that just 72-73 per cent of packaging was recycled.

It explained: ‘Approximately 0.7 per cent of retail packaging that enters the home comes from toy and hobby products and it is estimated that 90 per cent of toy packaging could be recycled, of which 72-73 per cent presently is.’   

HOW MUCH RECYCLING ENDS UP IN LANDFILL?

Every day, millions of us drop a plastic bottle or cardboard container into the recycling bin – and we feel we’re doing our bit for the environment.

But what we may not realise is that most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead.

Of 30 billion plastic bottles used by UK households each year, only 57 per cent are currently recycled, with half going to landfill, half go to waste.

Most plastic never gets recycled at all, often ending up in landfill or incineration depots instead. Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter

Around 700,000 plastic bottles a day end up as litter.

This is largely due to plastic wrapping around bottles that are non-recyclable. 

Every year, the UK throws away 2.5 billion ‘paper’ cups, amounting to 5,000 cups a minute. 

Shockingly, less than 0.4 per cent of these are recycled.

Most cups are made from cardboard with a thin layer of plastic. 

This has previously posed issues with recycling but can now be removed. 

Five specialist recycling plants in the UK have the capacity to recycle all the cups used on our high-streets.  

Ensuring the paper cups end up in these plants and are not discarded incorrectly is one of the biggest issues facing the recycling of the paper vessels. 

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