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Want to Avoid Asthma Triggers? This Technology May Help

John Whyte, MD, MPH - Blogs
By John Whyte, MD, MPHBoard-certified internistSeptember 21, 2018

“I can’t breathe!”

That’s one of the scariest sentences for patients to utter and for physicians to hear. And if you’ve ever been short-of-breath, you know how frightening it can be.

For patients with asthma, especially those whose condition is not well-controlled, it can be a daily occurrence (and more than half of patients with asthma have trouble controlling it). While there are new guidelines and new medicines to help treat asthma, it remains very important to reduce triggers – those factors that can cause an attack.

That’s where technology comes in – specifically, GPS. You might think, “How can the technology I use in my car and phone help address breathing issues?” Here’s how:

Just as your phone and car have a GPS technology to pinpoint its location at a specific point in time, so too can an inhaler track where and when you use it. And that type of basic information can be extremely useful.

In the past, we asked patients to keep logs of their symptoms. And many did. But let’s be honest. Most did not, and it’s understandable. Having a chronic condition can be hard enough to manage, let alone document on a daily basis. But now we have a way, in real time, to know about medication use and even flare ups.

Each time a patient uses an inhaler, a GPS-enabled sensor sends a signal. This signal shows the location and “stamps” the time. This data can then be analyzed – on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis – to provide the patient and their physician easy to understand, useful information.

This might help the patient to understand what’s causing attacks. I’ve had patients who ultimately are diagnosed with asthma due to work exposure, and it’s taken months to figure this out. GPS-tracking could shorten that time frame. I’ve also had the exercise enthusiast who refuses to believe he can have exercise-induced asthma until everything else is ruled out. This mobile technology can help demonstrate the association.

It can also address adherence issues to medicine. When the patient and I share the same information, I can help with strategies and tips to help manage the condition, as well as adjust medicines. I have learned over the years that empowering patients with information and sharing decision-making is always a good thing to do.

What’s also exciting is that the information we get from GPS-enabled inhalers can even be shared with public health professionals. The data could help us identify areas of the community that have poor air quality due to pollution or areas where there could be excessive mold or dust mites. It might even help people learn where there is an invasion of cockroaches – which often causes an asthma attack! This can then assist local leaders where to put resources to help improve asthma for all members of the community.

If you’re interested in adding GPS technology to your asthma treatment plan, talk to your doctor and your insurance company to learn more.

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About the Author
John Whyte, MD, MPH

John Whyte, MD, MPH, is a board-certified internist and the Chief Medical Officer at WebMD, where he leads efforts to develop and expand strategic partnerships that create meaningful change around important and timely public health issues. As a popular health writer, he has been published extensively both in medical and mainstream publications.

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