Asthma

Asthma is an inflammation of the airways in your lungs. It can be made worse by different small particles that are in the air we breathe, such as pollen, dust, or pollution from traffic exhausts. When the airways become inflamed, the passages through which the air needs to pass become narrower. It is difficult to breathe out, and so air becomes trapped in your lungs – but it is air which has less oxygen in it, and you feel you want to breathe fresh air in, yet you can’t breathe the old air out. This is very frightening, and sometimes needs extra medical help.

Treatment is extremely important for people with asthma. Usually steroid drugs are given in an inhaler to prevent the allergic reaction which takes place in the airways, and these need to be taken regularly. The ‘reliever’ inhalers, which are usually blue in colour, are used when the airways have already become inflamed, and help to keep the airways open. They are really a back-up to the regular ‘preventer’ inhaler. Sometimes people feel well, and stop taking their preventer inhaler regularly, and rely on the blue inhaler to get them out of trouble. This is a very dangerous approach, and so technology is used to remind patients to take their preventer inhaler, as for example using Flo text messaging.

Since the inhalers are crucial to the successful treatment of asthma, using them correctly is vital. While health professionals may demonstrate how to use an inhaler when they see a patient, the information is easily forgotten. The free Manage Your Health app has video demonstrations using an avatar, which can be downloaded to your smartphone to refresh your technique of using your inhaler.

Early warning of your breathing becoming worse can be found by using a peak flow meter every day. If your peak flow is lower, it may indicate that you are developing an infection, and following your asthma action plan can help to prevent you having an asthma attack. There is a lot of information about this in the Manage Your health app. You can also find out information on the NHS:home website and on asthma.org.  

Patients with asthma should have a management plan, giving instructions about what to do if their peak flow is not as high as usual. There is an example of a management plan below.

Flo can be used to remind children or adults with asthma to take their inhaler, or to use their peak flow meter, and for readings to be sent to their doctor or nurse. Often, text reminders to busy parents to give their child their inhaler can make a significant difference to their asthma control.

Closed Facebook groups for asthma patients or for parents of children with asthma can provide support from other people in a similar situation.

Video consultation via Skype may be a useful way of keeping track of the progress of patients who are sometimes reluctant or unable to attend clinic appointments. However, because of the potential seriousness of an asthma attack, if patients do become very short of breath during an attack, they need to go to hospital without delay.

Below are examples of the technology which could help patients with asthma. The Facebook and Skype examples are of different conditions, but the principles can apply to asthma too.