Fight Against Asthma Goes High-Tech

By: Rachelle Baillon Email
By: Rachelle Baillon Email

JULY 7th, 2011-6:05p.m.
MADISON--Susann Ahrabi-Fard was what you'd call a late bloomer when it comes to Asthma. “It was in my early 30s," she said. "I hadn't really considered it as an illness that I had until a co-worker was listening to my symptoms and she happened to be a pulmonologist and she said 'maybe you have asthma'. So I decided to go get it checked out and sure enough I did."

She's been dealing with the condition for about 10 years now. Though a couple years back, she hit a rough patch: “ I hadn't paid attention to my symptoms and it happened to be a very, very bad year," she said. "I wasn't taking medicine, didn't really have a plan."

Susann's one of an estimated 25 million Americans for whom Asthma presents a persistent problem. "It's not well-managed in many cases," said David Van Sickle, the co-founder of Madison-based 'Asthmapolis'. "The majority of folks with asthma in the U.S. are actually uncontrolled....and have symptoms much more frequently then they should be."

But relief may soon be on the way. Van Sickle's company is making the fight against Asthma high-tech. "This sensor just attaches to a standard Asthma inhaler and lets us track the time and location where they use that inhaler," described Van Sickle.

A weekly e-mail charting inhaler use can help sufferers figure out what may be triggering their symptoms--and where they have them most.

"It was very eye opening," said Ahrabi-Fard. "I'd never tracked my symptoms and it was very clear that I was having seasonal allergies on top of Asthma symptoms and the seasonal allergies were triggering the symptoms, and so it was about a month and a half were having very bad symptoms and was using the inhaler way too much."

Susann participated in two Asthmapolis studies. She says the experience now helps her prevent symptoms before they become problems. “The next year my provider put me on preventative medicine and it stopped most of those allergy symptoms and then I barely used my inhaler the second year," she said.

Van Sickle says for patients, knowing where they're using their inhaler most can help them mitigate exposure to places or things that are pushing their symptoms. It can also help their doctors better manage Asthma too. "Alerting physicians and health care providers to patients who might need more attention and...trying to prevent or minimize or eliminate those days with symptoms, so that they don't become a severe attack that requires emergency room visit or hospitalization," he said.

That in turn, could cut down on Asthma's expensive health care bill. "In the U.S. we spend about $56 billion a year on direct medical costs as well as the productivity loss for people missing work, or having kids absent from school," said Van Sickle. "So an asthma attack is actually very, very expensive, especially when it results in an emergency room visit or hospitalization."

“I think a lot of people are walking around out there and don't know they have Asthma," said Ahrabi-Fard. "If you can track when you're having your events and where, I think you can get a better handle on your illness and prevent a lot of those symptoms in the future."

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