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One U.S. city is using smart asthma inhalers to help monitor air pollution

smart asthma inhaler city emissions car pollution smog
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Could asthma sufferers provide data to shape the future of our towns and cities?

That’s possibly overstating things a bit, but a fascinating new research initiative being carried out in Louisville, Kentucky, speaks to how data gathered from patients with connected sensors on their inhaled medications — for respiratory diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — can help influence local environmental policies.

The project relies on connected asthma inhalers, capable of collecting information on where and when asthma symptoms occur, that can be used to identify pollution in a city that frequently sits in the nation’s top 10 “allergy capitals.”

The inhalers are the work of Propeller Health, a partner in the AIR Louisville program.

“Propellor is a digital health company focused on improving the lives of people with respiratory disease,” Meredith Barrett, vice president of science and research at Propellor Health, told Digital Trends. “We’ve done that by developing a digitally guided platform which uses Bluetooth-enabled wireless sensors that are able to collect data on where, whe,n and how frequently people use their medication. That’s a valuable tool for promoting adherence to the daily medication people take to maintain control over their asthma and COPD — but it’s also useful when it comes to revealing the potential locations and environmental triggers that can trigger these conditions.”

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Compared to traditional data collection on asthma triggers, such as pollution, Barrett said the data that can be gathered from potentially thousands of smart devices has several key advantages.

“With the sensors, we’re able to collect down-to-the-second information with a spatial resolution of 10 meters,” she said. “It means we can gather incredibly accurate, immediate measures of distress. We can then aggregate that data to look at trends, which we can explore by day, by month, by season, or so on. It’s a very powerful tool.”

When registration for the AIR Louisville program closed at the end of September, more than 1,100 people had enrolled. At present, the project has collected 97,000 separate data points about asthma rescue medication usage in the area.

The hope now is that the data can be used to make a difference in sufferers’ lives. “The information can be used by policymakers at the city and county level to work out what kind of interventions are likely to have the largest impact when it comes to improving quality of life for asthma and COPD sufferers,” Barrett concluded.

Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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