An asthma attack is a situation in which one’s lungs overreact to environmental stimuli, resulting in chest tightness or breathlessness. It is not clear exactly what triggers the attack, and the sensor has been developed in order to help shed light on this mystery. By continuously monitoring the chemicals and the atmospheric conditions to which the patient is exposed, the triggering stimulus may be found.
The sensor measures the amounts of certain chemicals and some environmental conditions in the air surrounding the patient. More specifically, it is designed to measure the amount of formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide, and to keep track of the air’s temperature, relative humidity, and total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are gases emitted from materials such as paint, cleaning supplies, building materials, etc. Besides these specific compounds, the sensor constantly monitors airborne particles that can be analyzed in the lab after an asthma attack takes place. Using these measurements, scientists may achieve a better understanding of the causes of asthma.
The sensor weighs less than one pound and is already in use by several volunteers. The GTRI team is working on reducing the sensor’s size so it will easier to carry. The scientists also plan to increase the amount of volunteers, in order to learn about the disease via a more varied demographic sample group. By analyzing the data the team hopes to improve their understanding of the causes of asthma attacks in both children and adults, and then find new ways to prevent the occurrence of the attacks.
The development of the sensor used in this research was previously covered in a TFOT article. TFOT also covered a pen-like sensor, which can rapidly detect biowarfare agents on the battlefield.
More information on the research project can be found on the GTRI news page.