Asthmatics could soon be monitoring their wheeze from the comfort of home thanks to a high-tech gadget that may guard against asthma attacks.
Lung specialists at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research in Sydney are testing whether it's possible for the tens of thousands of Australians with the common lung condition to self-monitor their symptoms using a device and the internet.
If successful, the system will change the way asthma is managed by providing patients with an early warning of flare-ups before they wind up in the hospital emergency department.
“People with asthma currently have no good tool to alert them to worsening symptoms,” says chief investigator Dr Cindy Thamrin. “Sadly that means many of Australia’s asthmatics get no warnings and wind up seeking urgent hospital care at the last minute.”
“Just like the finger prick test changed life for diabetics, our technology has the potential to revolutionise respiratory care by ensuring people know what is happening to their condition and how to keep them themselves safe," Dr Thamrin says.
More than two million Australians have asthma, 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.
Woolcock research shows asthma remains poorly controlled for 45 per cent of Australians with the condition, and nearly 30 per cent of sufferers required urgent asthma healthcare in the previous year.
“The current approach in Australia is asthma self-management, with an action plan that helps patients recognise when their symptoms are worsening,” explains Dr Thamrin. “The problem is only one in four patients have an action plan and, on top of this, plans don’t always work because they’re based a patient’s own, often unreliable recall and perception of symptoms.”
Woolcock researchers hope to change the status quo with their state-of-the-art, mobile internet-connected device which patients use to monitor their lung function each day. This simple breathing test takes 1-2 minutes and will give vital information about the person's quality of life and whether a flare-up in symptoms might be on the horizon.
Dr Thamrin, working with engineers in Milan, Italy, is recruiting asthma patients in Sydney who will have their conditions monitored with daily at-home tests over six months. Those recruited will get monitoring as they use their own standard preventer treatment.
The device will use gentle sound waves to probe the lungs as patients breathe. The breathing data will be uploaded automatically to the cloud, and compared with the patient’s daily symptoms. "We hope to be able to identify the trigger point for when an increase in medication is required or a visit to their GP," Dr Thamrin says. "In future, either the patient or the GP will receive an alarm if their breathing data suggest they’re about to have a flare-up."
The challenge for the researchers will be maximising detection while minimising false alarms, she says.
Involvement comes with benefits for patients, who will each receive a detailed assessment of their lung function. "As well as the opportunity to monitor their health, those involved get to be part of an exciting trial that, all going well, will revolutionise management of a notoriously hard to manage condition," Dr Thamrin says.
Volunteers must aged over 18, have diagnosed asthma and currently treated regularly with preventer medication. You’ll be required to breathe into a simple device once daily at home for six months. You’ll also need to attend 2-3 one-hour clinic appointments either at the Woolcock’s Glebe headquarters, Concord Hospital or Royal North Shore Hospital. You will be reimbursed for your time attending clinic sessions.
If you are interested, talk to your doctor or contact one of the study investigators at 02 9114 0146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.