If your asthma is acting up, you're probably not the only one. But unless you're standing next to someone who is also huffing his or her inhaler, you wouldn't know it. That's a problem for epidemiologists who do their best work when they're buried in data, and it's exactly the problem a former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researcher aims to solve with a GPS- and WiFi-enabled inhaler.
Asthma attacks can happen anywhere, but the causes of these attacks can be hard to pin down because patients don't always report, or even remember, every time they pop their inhaler out for some respiratory relief. Dr. David Van Sickle's Spiroscout inhaler aims to change this. Suck on the Spiroscout and it logs the time and position, sending it to a central computer for analysis.
That analysis benefits asthma sufferers on two levels. Individually, it allows participating patients and their doctors to analyze their inhaler use, shedding light on patterns that may develop in inhaler usage or indicating that perhaps the patient needs an adjustment in his or her medication.
But the larger benefit is societal. Once the data is stripped of identifying information, epidemiologists can analyze trends among entire groups of asthma sufferers. From this, they should be able to identify certain environmental and geographical factors--areas where certain plants are present or where certain pollutants are peristent--that precipitate asthma attacks. That could lead not only to a better understanding of asthma, but to a better understanding of the general air quality in a given area.