Breathing new life into control of asthma

Mon, Jan 21, 2013, 00:00

Ireland has the fourth highest incidence of asthma in the world and an important element of the treatment of the condition is an effective asthma management plan.

To assist people with the condition, the Asthma Society of Ireland has developed and launched Asthma Coach, a new free app for iPhones and mobile website for all smartphone devices aimed at helping them better manage their symptoms.

The Asthma Society of Ireland is a national voluntary association representing people with asthma, their parents, medical personnel and all those with an interest in the condition.

The app allows users to record and track their asthma symptoms, medication usage and peak flow to help them control their condition. Users may also share the diary and a graph of their asthma activities with their healthcare professional if they wish.

Asthma affects the airways – the small tubes that carry the air in and out of the lungs. Children with asthma have airways that are extra sensitive to substances or certain triggers which irritate them. Common triggers include colds and flus, cigarette smoke, exercise and allergic responses to pollen, furry or feathery animals or house-dust mites.

When the airways come into contact with an asthma trigger, the muscle around the walls tightens so that the airways become narrower. The lining of the airways swells and produces a sticky mucus. As the airways narrow, it becomes difficult for the air to move in and out.

Although there is no cure, asthma can be controlled by avoiding triggers and by the use of reliever and preventer medication. Relievers are medicines that people with asthma take immediately when it appears. Preventers help calm down the airways and stop them from being so sensitive.

One in 10 Irish people, some 470,000 are affected by the inflammatory lung condition and at least one person a week dies from an asthma attack in Ireland. Furthermore, it is estimated that 280,000 of those affected do not have the condition under control.

“Asthma is often not recognised as a serious condition, but more than 19,000 people attend AE due to asthma each year,” says Asthma Society chief executive Sharon Cosgrove.

“Adults with asthma miss an average of 12 days of work and children miss 10 days of school each year.

“It is a chronic disease which has a terrible effect on the lives of so many people. It’s essential for people with asthma to have an asthma management plan and to review it regularly with their healthcare professional. The Asthma Coach will let them do this easily in a way that fits into their busy lifestyle.”

The free app can be used by anyone with asthma and can also be used by the parent of a child with asthma to help track their condition. “There are over 741,000 smartphones in Ireland, with 40 per cent of people under 34 and 60 per cent of mums owning one,” says Cosgrove.

Helpful reminders

“People with asthma and the parents of children with asthma play a key role in managing their asthma on a daily basis. Asthma symptoms and the need for medications can change over time and the Asthma Coach allows for this to be tracked by the user or the parent.

“Other functions include the ability to set up helpful reminders such as when to make an appointment with the GP, when to refill a prescription, and when to do a peak expiratory flow. The Asthma Coach also provides users with videos on how to correctly use inhalers and other devices, what to do in an emergency and how to test your peak flow.”

According to Dr Basil Elnazir, chair of the Asthma Society medical committee, it is hoped that the app will help young people to engage in managing their own asthma.

“They form lifelong health habits in these years, so if they start to control their asthma now this will help them throughout their lives,” he says.

“We can’t change whether people have asthma or not, but we can help to change their outcomes through management of their condition. The app will help them to do this in partnership with their healthcare professional.”

The development of the app was enabled through an unrestricted educational grant from Pfizer Healthcare Ireland. The software also includes a pollen forecast from March to November, which is supported by Dyson.

Health outcomes

“Health apps are becoming increasingly popular and the market is set to grow by 25 per cent annually over the next five years”, Cosgrove points out.

“The Asthma Society wants to help people with asthma to use mobile technology to help people with asthma to improve the quality of their life, their health outcomes and ultimately reduce the number of people dying of asthma every year. Over 50 deaths a year is simply too high.”

Gordon Hayden, presenter on Spin 103.8 and TV3, is helping promote the new app. He was diagnosed with asthma as a child and carries his inhaler with him everywhere.

“I have already trialled the app and it’s given me a great way to keep on top of what my asthma triggers are and what medications I’m taking. The app helps me keep on top of my asthma instead of it getting on top of me.”