The CDC reports that more than 24 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from asthma. Triggers can be allergens, poor air quality, certain types of exercise, among other things. For now, those affected have to rely on prescription inhalers to get them through attacks, but a new wearable sensor technology from researchers at North Carolina State University could predict an attack before it occurs, letting people make changes to prevent it.
The system is called the Health and Environmental Tracker (HET) and it includes a smart wristband and chest patch that monitor the wearer's health and the environment around them.
“Our goal was to design a wearable system that could track the wellness of the subjects and in particular provide the infrastructure to predict asthma attacks, so that the users could take steps to prevent them by changing their activities or environment,” says Alper Bozkurt, one of the researchers on the project and an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State.
The patch has sensors for monitoring movement, heart rate, respiratory rate, the amount of oxygen in the blood, skin impedance and wheezing in the lungs. The wristband monitors air quality levels like the amount of ozone and volatile organic compounds in the air and also measure temperature and humidity. The wristband also monitors health data -- movement, heart rate and oxygen in the blood.
The system also includes a separate spirometer for measuring lung function that the user breathes into once a day.
The data from all of the sensors is sent wirelessly to a computer where software collects and analyzes it. In testing, the sensors have been accurate and the system has successfully compiled the data of users and their environment.
They are working on making the prediction software now so that soon users could use the system and pair it with their smartphones, getting alerts about their health and environment as they go through their day and warnings when an attack is coming.
“Preventing an attack could be as simple as going indoors or taking a break from an exercise routine,” says James Dieffenderfer, a Ph.D. student in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The team has already accomplished making the system very low power so that it could potentially be powered by the body of the person wearing it.