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27th June 2016

Taking the guesswork out of your asthma

How would you feel if every breath you took depended on a host of unpredictable variables like air quality, pollen, humidity, cigarette smoke, perfume, and some others that you didn’t even know about?

This is the reality for people like Dominique Hamerlijnck, whose ‘uncontrollable allergic asthma’ can literally change with the wind. “I react to many things in my environment and therefore my condition is very hard to control. I was diagnosed 35 years ago but as my asthma changes continuously I still haven’t found the optimal combination of medicines,” Dominique tells This Is Medtech.

Asthma causes a person’s air passages to become inflamed and constricted. It’s one of the most common chronic diseases in Europe, affecting 30 million people under the age of 45, but each patient reacts differently.

Dominique, who’s a patient advocate for the European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients Associations (EFA) and the Dutch Lung Foundation, points out that although there are people with a relatively stable condition, there’s a large group of asthma sufferers like her whose asthma is harder to control. This can be very frustrating.

“Having asthma is exhausting. It affects so many other aspects of your life, like your sleep,” she says. “I run my own business, but sometimes I can only work one or two hours a day.”

A personalised app for better care

This is why she’s actively involved in the development of a new e-health self-management tool called MyAirCoach to give patients daily information about their condition and ultimately help them get better care. “The app will gather all kinds of measurements like respiratory rate, peak flow (ability to exhale), local air humidity & quality, nitric oxide and exhaled breath temperatures ‒ all of which can give insight into a person’s condition,” explains Dominique.

The goal is to help doctors make accurate predictions about the patient’s disease as it progresses and support patients in managing their asthma better.

“Living with a chronic condition 365 days a year is very different than talking to a doctor for ten minutes every few months,” she comments. “Having this daily information for the first time could really support patients. The challenge will be translating all of the data into personalised advice.”

Dominique urges other patients to get involved with the development of new technology that could help them. “You need to involve patients in the whole process, and involve them deeply,” she says. “Sometimes researchers get so enamoured with the technology that they forget there are people who actually have to use it. There’s a lot that can be improved by working more closely with patients.”

To drive home her point, Dominique notes that more than 50% of asthma patients are not having their condition managed properly. “Our dream is to have a system that better supports us.”