'Tickling' your ear can improve the health of your heart, study finds

Tickling your ears with a pain-relieving TENS machine can improve heart health, a study has shown. Applying electrical stimulation to the tragus—the small triangular flap at the front of the ear—helped the heart adjust its beating rate and prevented it being driven too hard. TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is a method of blocking pain signals to the brain by applying small shocks to the skin.

It is early days—so far we have been testing this on healthy subjects—but we think it does have potential to improve the health of the heart and might even become part of the treatment for heart failure.

Neuroscientist professor Jim Deuchars

The battery-powered machines are commonly used to relieve chronic back pain or early labour pains. Researchers conducting the new study applied TENS stimulation to the ears of 34 healthy volunteers for 15 minutes at a time. Ear stimulation was also found to suppress the sympathetic nervous system, which drives heart activity via a different pathway using adrenaline.