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There's An App For That: Helping Asthmatics Report Their Wildfire-Related Symptoms

Courtesy of Julie Postma

This time of year, asthmatics struggle when smoke from wildfires lingers in the air. This summer, the air has been much clearer.

But, when smoke does eventually waft into the region, a Washington State University researcher has a new tool for asthmatics to share their symptoms. She and her partners have been perfecting a new app and they’re looking for young adult asthmatics to test it.

Julie Postma and her colleagues from WSU and partners from a Spokane technology lab called Urbanova have been modifying a phone app called Smoke Sense. It was created by the Environmental Protection Agency and it offers…

“The ability to look at the air quality index and see what the air quality is like, locally as well as regionally. Identify fires in the region and smoke plumes as a result of those fires. But it also allows people to monitor and note their symptoms,” she said.

The version adapted by Postma, who’s in WSU’s College of Nursing, and her colleagues allows people to blow into a hand-held machine called a spirometer.

Credit Courtesy of Julie Postma
Participants in the WSU asthma app study will blow into a spirometer and have the results delivered via smartphone to Urbanova.


“That, via Bluetooth, connects with a smartphone so that people can breathe into that. There’s a small turbine in there. It measures the flow of air in and out of the lungs," she said.

The information generated is transmitted back to Urbanova, which collects the data for researchers.

Postma is recruiting 60 asthmatics, ages 18-to-26, to test the app and provide feedback. She’s targeting young people because they often underestimate the effects of air pollution on their breathing and because they’re comfortable with the technology her team is developing.

When it’s perfected, Postma believes the app will be a help to people who need to keep an eye on the sky in order to function.

“Self management, chronic care management, especially reaching people in rural areas who might not have the access to a pulmonologist. It’s a huge part of asthma management is that self care piece," he said.

Postma says study participants will use the app for eight weeks to keep track of their breathing. They’ll could earn Amazon gift cards. To learn more, go to the WSU College of Nursing’s asthma and wildfire web page.