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Wearable Environmental Monitoring Improves Lives of Those with Asthma

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Posted 6 months ago on June 10th, 2022. Last modified on July 5th, 2022

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The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention states that the United States is home to more than 24 million people affected by asthma. The patients currently rely on conventional inhalers to manage their symptoms, including debilitating asthma attacks. However, there are new technologies, currently in their developmental stage, that utilize environmental monitoring to improve the lives of those with asthma.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a health condition where a person's airways become inflamed and narrow, leading to swelling and the production of extra mucus. All these issues combine to cause difficulty in breathing. 

Asthma can be minor, causing slight inconvenience in daily lives, or can lead to life-threatening attacks. It can cause wheezing, cough, chest pain, and breathing difficulty. The condition is usually managed with rescue inhalers to treat the symptoms or controller inhalers to prevent them. In severe cases, people with asthma use longer-acting inhalers to keep their airways open. 

With so many Americans suffering from the illness, it was natural to look for more convenient and practical solutions to manage it. Researchers have developed a wearable, integrated system to monitor the users' heart rate, other physical attributes, and the environment. The ultimate goal is to predict an asthma attack before it happens based on observed data.

What is this new wearable system? 

The integrated wearable system for environmental monitoring aims at improving the lives of individuals who have asthma. The system is called the Health and Environmental Tracker or HET. It is a specialized data logger composed of a suite of new sensor devices. Researchers from North Carolina State University's Nanosystem Engineering Research Center developed it for ASSIST's (Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies) National Science Foundation. 

The technology aims to track the subject's wellness, assist them with a comprehensive infrastructure to predict asthma attacks, and empower the user to stay alert and take preventative steps by altering their activities or environment. One can prevent asthma attacks by steps as simple as sitting indoors when uncomfortable, avoiding congested spaces, or taking a break from a rigorous workout routine. But knowing when to take these steps is a challenge. A data-driven approach can address this problem. 

The Health and Environmental Tracker or HET incorporates novel sensing devices. These are all infused into a wristband and a patch. The patch adheres to the chest and includes sensors tracking a patient's movement, respiratory rate, heart rate, skin impedance, oxygen amount, and wheezing in the lungs. 

According to Dickson Data, environmental monitoring can help monitor and prevent critical conditions. The wristband focuses mainly on environmental factors, as it monitors volatile organic compounds, ambient humidity and temperature, and ozone in the air. Moreover, the wristband has additional sensors to monitor motion, influencing an individual's blood oxygen level and heart rate.

Is it entirely wearable?

At this point, the system is not entirely wearable. It comes with one non-wearable component called the spirometer. The spirometer is a device used to estimate the amount of air you can breathe in and out and the time it takes for you to exhale it entirely. Basically, it measures an individual's lung function. It is a diagnostic device, and the HET system requires patients to breathe into it several times throughout the day. 

Researchers have designed a customized spirometer that collects accurate information on lung function. The data is transmitted wirelessly to a computer, and custom software works on the analysis. The accumulated data goes into the system and determines the prescription dosage of drugs used in the inhalers. 

The wearable device utilizes ultra-low power consumption and has long battery life. The device uses nano-enabled novel sensor technologies that consume energy at sub-milliwatt levels. The hope is to have a device powered by the energy produced by the wearer's body. 

The center will test additional environmental and physiological variables to predict and prevent asthma attacks effectively. A limited number of human subjects have tried the system, and the demonstrations have shown positive results. Researchers have confirmed that all the sensors work effectively and comply with the data. 

The team is also working on software that will track all collected data in an automated model and send advance asthma attack warnings to the users. This software will revolutionize health monitoring and present an on-the-go smart option for the asthmatic population.

ASSIST envisions creating a wearable device for environmental monitoring of asthma patients powered by their body's energy. Their goal to improve the lives of asthma patients seems to take shape with their Health and Environmental Tracker system, which appears promising for those with asthma. Hopefully, the trials will succeed, and the technology will help individuals with asthma worldwide.