New Asthma App Offers Relief to Young People

Young people with asthma could soon have a new weapon in the fight against wheezing and dangerous attacks - their smartphone.

Australian researchers are developing a new app that will help the thousands of young people who live with the uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening symptoms of asthma.

The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research and University of Sydney are seeking volunteers to help develop exciting new smartphone software that supports those with the condition.

The joint project aims to help improve Australia's dire teen asthma statistics with an app that is cool, fun and so beneficial that teens are keen to use it regularly to keep their asthma under control, says Woolcock research psychologist Dr Juliet Foster.

"For most teenagers with asthma, a preventer inhaler is the best tool for managing asthma symptoms but we're offering them added support in the form of a smartphone app that is able to help them gain control of their asthma," Dr Foster says.

Study leader Associate Professor Lorraine Smith at the University of Sydney said, "What makes our approach so unique is that young people with asthma will be right there from the get-go helping us develop something that reflects the aspects of asthma management that matter to them."

A glance at Australia's asthma statistics and the need for such innovative technology becomes clear. Asthma affects about one in ten Australian teenagers, and they have one of the highest rates of current asthma symptoms in the world.

As Dr Foster explains, asthma is the most common chronic disease in children and the condition is a common cause of absence from school.

"25 per cent of children with asthma report missing a day of school within the last fortnight compared with 16 per cent of children without asthma," Dr Foster says. "If you add that up over a year that's a lot of missed opportunities to learn, play sport and socialise with your mates."

The statistics show that despite high asthma prevalence among teens, these young people are less likely than both younger and older people with asthma to manage their condition well.

Statistics show prescriptions for essential and effective preventive asthma inhalers are irregularly filled among this age group. Moreover, they tend to rely more on reliever medication inhalers, an 'ambulance at the bottom of the cliff' treatment strategy that is risky and indicates poor asthma control.

Young people are also less likely to visit their doctor than children with the condition, Dr Foster says.

The researchers say the app concept, still in its infancy, is vital for helping teenagers connect with their condition and take control of its management at a time in life when they're becoming more mature and independent.

Associate Professor Smith says one of the biggest challenges is that many young people with asthma may not be very engaged with asthma-self management.

"That's why it's so important to develop an app that is totally adolescent centric, that speaks to them and engages them in the aspects of asthma that they care about," Associate Professor Smith says.

The app will focus on helping users set goals for their asthma management. The young people involved will contribute their personal health goals, favourite apps and concept ideas for what the app could look like. They'll get the chance to test out the prototype and give valuable feedback.

Success will be marked on the app's ability to engage users and get them coming back for more, using it regularly enough to show real and measurable benefits to their health.

"Ultimately we want those who use it to have their asthma more under control, with fewer symptoms and a lower risk of flare ups and urgent hospital visits than if they hadn't been using it," Associate Professor Smith says.

Once developed, the app will be the first of its kind in the teen asthma app market and one of the first rigorously researched health apps to come online.

Researchers are seeking 25 volunteers who are aged between 15 and 25 years and have been diagnosed with asthma by a doctor.

Click here to view more information about the study

For enquiries about this study please contact:

Ludmila Ovchinikova on 0404 437 770 or ludmila.ovchinikova@sydney.edu.au

 

Asthma in Australia 

  • Two million Australians have asthma.
  • Asthma is a chronic lung condition that inflames and narrows the airways, causing wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness and coughing.
  • The causes are still not well understood, but triggers are known to include viral infections, exercise, and exposure to allergens and irritants.
  • Adherence to medications is poor, with many people, especially young people, failing to use their preventer inhalers as often as needed to manage their condition.