Using Technology to Better Manage Your Asthma
At 63, I am a bit of an oddball for my generation, because I absolutely adore technology of all kinds. So, when I recently ran across an article on asthma apps, I decided to dig deep into how technology could be used to better manage asthma. I found some pretty interesting stuff!
There are a number of different technology approaches available to help you with your asthma self care and to help you communicate with your health care team.
Many of the approaches have to do with data, tracking and communication. Some can actually help you use your inhalers correctly. While other technology comes in the form of digital devices almost anyone can learn to use.
Data Gathering & Tracking
So much of successful asthma management is tied to tracking of your symptoms and medication use. Traditionally, asthmatics have kept handwritten asthma logs and diaries. These could then be shared with their doctors to facilitate any treatment plan tweaks.
Apps.Since most adults and many kids now own smart phones and digital tablets of some kind, there are apps for that. Whether you use the Apple iOS or an Android device, do a search in your App Store. You are sure to find quite a few apps that enable digital tracking.
I have an iPhone and I found at least 10 to 15 asthma-specific apps. (You can also use the Health app that comes with an iPhone to record some data.) Some apps are free (at least initially), while others cost a dollar or two.
I don’t have direct experience with any of these apps, but it’s a good idea to read the reviews carefully. I wouldn’t pay for anything without trying the free version first, unless you talk to someone who can vouch for it.
Digital tracking apps can be a lot more convenient and faster to use than a handwritten log. Depending on the app, they may also show your data in visual format, which can make it easier to spot patterns and identify danger signs that asthma control is slipping. Some of the apps even remind you to take your medicines or see your doctor. You may also be able to share data from the app directly with your health care providers.
Websites & information managers. Although the trend is toward mobile apps, you may also be able to find asthma tracking websites if you look hard enough. For those who aren’t interested in mobile apps or don’t trust external data managers, you might also develop your own tracking tools in an information manager such as Evernote or Microsoft One Note. Air by Propeller is another possibility.
I can’t lie; I love devices. I own an iPhone, a couple of iPods, and iPad, Kindle Fire & Kindle readers, a laptop, an Alexa speaker and probably a few more devices. So, when I started reading about the digital devices available to help with managing asthma, I was excited.
Digital peak flow meters. A peak flow meter is a small handheld device you can use to measure how well your airways are working. It can show whether your or your child’s asthma is getting better or worse, and can warn of problems ahead of time. In the “old days,” the meter showed your result in a sliding gauge that you read and then recorded manually. Now, the digital versions give you an automated readout and even save your readings over time, which you can then share with your doctor. They are easily accessible, with many even being found on Amazon.
Smart Inhalers. These nifty devices are not really inhalers. Instead, they are a sensor that attaches to your existing inhaler. They track when you use your inhaler. Through Bluetooth technology, that data can be synced to your computer, an app, the cloud or even sent to your doctor’s office. This can be especially helpful with your rescue inhaler, which should only be used when your symptoms flare up. Knowing when and where this happens can help you identify your triggers and allow a more personally-tailored asthma action plan. Some smart inhalers will remind you when to use your controller inhaler too. Smart inhaler technology is really just getting started in the U.S., and may still have limited availability. However, I expect these devices to go big within the next few years.
Wheeze detectors. Personally, I know when I’m wheezing. But a device like this might be helpful to parents of kids who are still too young to fully describe what they are experiencing. There are a few monitors on the market. Here is what AirSonea says about how it works: “By placing the sensor on your trachea [windpipe] for 30 seconds of normal breathing, the device can record and then analyze your breath sounds for the presence of wheezing. The recorded breath sounds are analyzed with our advanced algorithms to detect, quantify and measure wheeze, an important sign of air flow obstruction in asthma.” Much like the smart inhalers, this is an emerging technology to watch for future development and availability.
One of the things I love most about technology is how it helps us stay connected. This can be invaluable in managing your treatment plan as well as in your quality of life.
Digital communications with your health care team. Through email or web portals, patients can now keep in touch with their health care teams, in real time. It’s often no longer necessary to spend time holding on the phone or sitting in a waiting room just to communicate with your doctor. Send an email or submit questions or data through your doctor’s web portal and communication can flow back and forth easily, and probably more quickly.
Telemedicine and video office visits. This type of technology can be helpful if you travel or live in a rural area without quick access to medical care and consultation. It won’t replace the need for an initial evaluation and diagnosis. But, it can be perfect for follow-up or educational visits. You can get prescriptions refilled, review your Asthma Action Plan or get instruction on how to correctly use your medications or devices, all from the comfort of your home.
Educational resources. Thanks to the world wide web, you can learn all about asthma, your medications and other related topics quite easily. No need to travel to the library or local bookstore. Watch videos, read information and even ask questions, all online. But beware of where you are getting this information. Look for reliable websites such as Asthma.net. You can also access pollen and air quality reports online or even through devices such as Alexa or Google Home.
Web-based support. One of the hardest things about living with a chronic illness is how it affects your quality of life. Although asthma is a common illness, it’s not unusual to feel alone in your struggles. Luckily, there are a number of online asthma support communities you can join. Although not a substitute for medical care and advice, this type of community can provide a place to connect with others going through similar challenges. It can also be place to exchange practical tips and suggestions for dealing with asthma.
Digital asthma action plans. I love this idea! Every asthmatic should have an Asthma Action Plan. Such a plan will guide you in your asthma self-management. Unfortunately, a lot of asthma patients don’t have one. I have never had a doctor suggest an action plan for me. And even if you do have one, if it needs to be updated, it can be cumbersome to fill out a new one with your doctor and then make sure everyone who needs access to it receives a copy. Having a digital action plan that you can access online or via a mobile app and that your doctor can update on the fly just makes sense. Again, this is an emerging technology. So, check with your health care team to see if this is a possibility for you.
Technology is fast becoming a tool that almost anyone can use to better manage their asthma. How much you choose to embrace it is up to you, but the possibilities are out there.
Just remember that technology and devices are only a tool. You still need to work closely with your healthcare team to manage your health and make any changes to your treatment plan.