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How tickling your ears is good for your heart

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.

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.

Neuroscientist Professor Jim Deuchars, from the University of Leeds, said: "You feel a bit of a tickling sensation, but it is painless. It is early days, but we think it does have potential to improve the health of the heart."

The technique works by stimulating a major nerve called the vagus, which plays an important role in regulating vital organs, including the heart.

A sensory branch of the vagus nerve extends to the outer ear. By sending electrical signals through the ear to the brain, the scientists were able to influence the nerve messages that regulate heart beat.

Vagal stimulation has been used to treat a number of conditions, including epilepsy. The research is published in the journal Brain Stimulation.