Smart Inhalers the Future of Asthma Control?

by John Bottrell Health Professional

Smartphones, smart TVs, and now smart inhalers? It appears this is already happening, thanks to new technology developed by Propeller Health. This may be the revolutionary breakthrough the asthma community has been yearning for to obtain ideal asthma control.

You actually turn your own inhaler into a smart inhaler. To begin all you need is a prescription for an inhaler from your doctor as normal, and also a prescription for an inhaler sensor. Then you download an app and sign in. After picking up the inhaler you simply snap the sensor onto it. The sensor then wirelessly syncs with your smartphone using Bluetooth.

When you use the inhaler, the sensor picks up the signal and collects data regarding any potential asthma triggers in your area. You can then track when and where you use your inhalers, and what symptoms you felt. You can even set reminders.

The data is then collected both on your smartphone and on the company’s server. The system automatically keeps a record of your trends including time, date and location of when you use your inhaled medications, along with whatever data you enter into the system.

If the system determines that your asthma is well-controlled, you may receive prompts, such as: “Congrats! We hope you are feeling fantastic and are spending your time doing all of the things that you enjoy!”

However, if it determines your asthma is not well-controlled or poorly controlled, you may receive notifications such as:

  • Are you taking your controller daily? If not, it’s time to start taking your controller DAILY as directed.

  • Know your triggers and start avoiding them; if they are not always avoidable use your rescue inhaler before being exposed to them or directly after being exposed.

  • See your doctor if you are not lasting four hours between rescue inhaler doses and bring the information from your Propeller account that shows how often you are taking your rescue inhaler with the signs and symptoms you note, and the trends that all your information has formed regarding your asthma. This record helps you have good, honest conversations about your asthma with your doctor and so, together, you can build strategies to control it better.

The goal of this new technology is to help...

1. YOU. No longer will you have to rely on memory when reporting on your asthma since your last physician’s visit. No longer will you have to keep an asthma journal, which most studies show aren’t reliable anyway. By reviewing the data on your smartphone your doctor will have access to all the same data you do.

2. Doctors. They will receive emails every morning to help them better manage their days. They can make sure they see patients who need help, and not bother those who are doing fine. For instance, if your status changes from well controlled to poorly controlled, your doctor will be alerted. This way your doctor can make sure you get the help you need when you need it. Your physician may have a nurse call you with advice, or may suggest you come in for a visit.

3. Community Health Leaders. They will be able to track where and when asthmatics use their inhalers. For instance, if the data reveals that one spot in your neighborhood is a hotspot for inhaler usage, this may indicate something in that area is acting as an asthma trigger and should be avoided by asthmatics. You and your doctor will also have access to this data.

The company promises that the only name you will see is your own name. All other names will not be shown on the app, only when and where inhalers are used, along with potential triggers and symptoms reported.

This is a novel idea and it’s still in the early stages. However, the FDA seems to like it, having cleared the way in 2012 for it to be marketed for any metered dose inhaler (MDI), including albuterol, xopenex, Qvar, Flovent, Dulera, and Advair.

Just recently, the FDA cleared the way for it to be marketed for any medicine delivered by the GlaxoSmithKline Discus and the Boehringer Ingelheim’s Respimat device, including Flovent, Advair, Spiriva, and Combivent.

We’re not endorsing any product here, just letting you know that this might be the wave of the future as far as asthma inhalers go. Other companies will probably enter this market, and the increased competition will only make smart inhalers smarter.

There are many asthmatics, both adults and children alike, who struggle to gain control of their asthma, and this may be an ideal tool for helping them gain optimal asthma control.

Further reading and references:

John Bottrell
Meet Our Writer
John Bottrell

John Bottrell is a registered Respiratory Therapist. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).