Asthma is a very common illness. Worldwide over 300 million people suffer from the inflammatory condition. Each year it’s estimated that over 250,000 people die from asthma attacks.
Asthma attacks are triggered by different things in different people. For example, my nephew always starts wheezing whenever he is near a grassy area such as a park or field. But his mother, my sister, only has asthma attacks whenever she is near dust and second-hand smoke from cigarettes or cigars.
Because asthma attacks are triggered by different things in different people, doctors usually ask patients to track when and where their asthma attacks occur. Based on this concept, epidemiologist and medical anthropologist David Van Sickle has come up with a GPS add-on for asthma inhalers. Van Sickle’s company, Asthmapolis, created Spiroscout, a GPS based asthma inhaler, so doctors and asthmatics patients can identify the triggers of their asthma attacks.
When you have an attack and reach for your inhaler, the GPS tracking device will record the time and location of the attack; it can then either store or send the data to a remote server. It’s hoped that then a patient or doctor will be able to see patterns in when an attack happens, and what caused it–be it pollen or a chemical substance.
The GPS tracking system sits on top of the medication canister for your inhaler, and its battery can be recharged using a wall-socket or USB power source. And since it’s USB powered, you can offload the data it collects onto your computer.
The idea is that if the attacks are happening near some sort of industry the trigger of the asthma attacks can be identified and possibly stopped. The tracking system would also allow the user to know more precisely, what their triggers are too. For instance if you have asthma and use your inhaler at 3:30 each day in the office you might correlate that with the time of the day you make copies and then realize the ozone and toner dust is a trigger.
The GPS device has completed two trial sessions, but is not yet commercially available. The company says the GPS device for inhalers will be ready for release in Fall 2011 and there already is a waiting list for the high-tech asthma inhaler.