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Why Thunderstorm Asthma Needs IoT

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Why Thunderstorm Asthma Needs IoT

Thunderstorms stir up pollen, which is trouble for asthma patients. But let's see how IoT and connected supply chains can help those in need.

· IoT Zone ·
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Imagine a situation where thousands of people all of a sudden find themselves unable to breathe. Thousands of people present themselves to hospitals and doctors surgeries struggling with wheezing, coughing and a shortness of breath. Some are turning blue. 1900 people call emergency services for an ambulance over 5 hours, the demand far exceeding supply. Many people end up in hospital and 10 die. It’s not a gas leak or smoke from an industrial fire. Instead, it’s the respiratory condition asthma, triggered by nature.

In Melbourne, Australia on November 21, 2016,  a thunderstorm storm hit after a hot day of temperatures reaching 38-degree Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The temperature dropped rapidly, accompanied by rain and strong winds of up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour recorded.  Emergency services and hospitals were overwhelmed. Paramedics dealt with an unprecedented 1,900 emergency calls in five hours and Melbourne hospitals treated more than 8,500 patients in two days. It is the world’s worst recorded case of thunderstorm asthma.

What Is Thunderstorm Asthma?

Thunderstorm asthma has is a rare phenomenon that was first identified and studied after three recorded events in the 1980s; in Birmingham, England, in 1983 and in Melbourne, Australia in 1987 and 1989. Further reports have been recorded in London, Naples, Atlanta, and Ahvaz.

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Thunderstorm asthma is characterized by huge amounts of pollen released before or after a major storm, triggering asthma attacks. The main hypotheses explaining the association between thunderstorms and asthma claim that thunderstorms can concentrate pollen grains at ground level which may then release allergenic particles of respirable size in the atmosphere after their rupture by osmotic shock. During the first 20-30 min of a thunderstorm, patients suffering from pollen allergies may inhale a high concentration of the allergenic material that is dispersed into the atmosphere, which in turn can induce asthmatic reactions, often severe. Subjects without asthma symptoms, but affected by seasonal rhinitis (hay fever) can also experience an asthma attack. 

As well as preventative medicine and an asthma action plan there are a number of ways science and medical technology together can help prevent and mitigate the effects of thunderstorm asthma.

Pollen Count Readings Rely on Decades-Old Technology 

In most countries, it is common to receive a daily pollen count with a weather report each day. The pollen count tells us how many grains of plant pollen were in a certain amount of air (often one cubic meter) during a set period of time (usually 24 hours).

To collect a sample of pollen the air, a plastic rod or similar device is covered with a greasy substance. The device spins in the air at a controlled speed for a set amount of time— usually over a 24-hour period. At the end of that time, an analyst studies the surface under a microscope. Pollen that has collected on the surface are identified by size and shape as well as other characteristics. A formula is then used to calculate that day's particle count.

However, pollen counts also have their limitations. As Pollen.com explains:

“Actual pollen counts and our resulting forecasts can be used to represent wide geographic expanses, sometimes up to many miles. It is extremely rare to find multiple pollen counting stations throughout an entire metro area. Pollen counting is a time-consuming and costly commitment. Typically, if there is a pollen counting station in a city, it is used to represent the entire metro area.”

Further, the counts reported are always for a past time period and may not describe what is currently in the air. 

Connected Alerts Are Part of the Solution

Researchers believe that in field cameras can be used to remotely observe the change in color of grass, tracking its progress to when it releases pollen. Satellites can also use infrared imagery to examine the color of fields to assess grass location, density, and pollen release. 

In November, the Victorian Government released a thunderstorm asthma detection system that will provide a three-day advance warning of potentially deadly conditions, the world's first. It relies upon weather conditions, hospital presentations, and pollen levels, with the aid of five new pollen monitoring sites. A government website and app provides forecasts, information, and alerts about potential thunderstorm asthma conditions.

How IoT is Helping Asthmatics

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Asthma is generally managed through a medical plan that may involve a peak flow meter to test lung health, a preventative inhaler, and a treatment inhaler. Peak flow meters are gradually becoming digital such as the PiKo-1 that can store up to 96 peak flow (lung capacity) readings. Data can be reviewed via a single operating button, eliminating the errors associated with paper diaries. Prices compare to mechanical peak flow meters. PiKoNET software. All tests can be easily downloaded for tracking and trending.

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Another digital treatment monitor is CareTRx, a sensor device that clips onto the top of an inhaler to monitor is a small cap equipped with sensors and onboard memory that fits over the canister of most metered-dose inhalers. When a user presses down to deliver a dose, the onboard memory stores that data. Then, when the user is near a mobile device, the cap automatically connects and syncs to the cloud and to the product’s app. Lights around the cap also illuminate when it’s time for a dose. 

We Need Real-Time Tracking Asthma Medication

Asthma medication traditionally includes preventative steroid-based medication (such a Symbicort) and treatment medication such as Salbutamol. The design of the medication receptacles can play an important part in managing asthma. Significantly, the Salbutamol (used for treatment during asthma attacks) does not tell users how many doses they have used or have left. The consequences are that people could believe themselves suitably equipped in the case of asthma but find themselves with an almost empty canister.

If the canisters were equipped with sensor technology a mobile app could not only keep an accurate account of dosages available but also monitor when medication is used and the dose and frequency, enabling users to track their condition over a period of time. This could be shared with family and health professionals and assist in asthma care. The sensor could also alert when it reaches a certain threshold and automatically order another inhaler from their health professional.

The increase of asthma as a disease is complex and can be attributed to a range of factors including can also be attributed due to greenhouse gas, pollution, and the use of pesticides in crop management. There's no stand-alone preventative. Advances in research, information, and resources are crucial for sufferers to successfully monitor and manage their health. 

thunderstorm asthma ,pollen ,sensor technology ,connected health ,iot

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