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This Device Warns Asthma Sufferers If They’re About To Have An Attack

The Asthma Assist keeps track of dozens of triggers, making it easier for patients to know the places and things they should avoid.

Matt Fischer has suffered with asthma for much of his life–a condition that’s not only physically threatening, but also emotionally exhausting. Asthmatics live in constant fear of “triggers” like mold, dust, or pollen, and learn to be hyper-aware of their environment.

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“People call me the ‘human mold detector,'” Fischer says.

The Utah native is now trying to fight back against his condition. Fischer’s startup, Control A+ is developing a trigger-monitor–the Asthma Assist–that could help sufferers manage their lives.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease where a person’s airways are swollen and highly sensitive to minor aggravations. The tubes connecting to the lungs narrow, reducing airflow and causing shortness of breath, chest tightness, and worse. “As a kid I sat on the sidelines of all physical activities,” Fischer says. “[Asthma] almost took my life. It’s always a thing I haven’t been able to shake.”

The device monitors outdoor and indoor factors affecting lung function, offering an early warning system for asthma sufferers. Factors include pollen, humidity, volatile organic compounds, temperature change, and more (Fischer has identified 72 possible triggers in all, though not all are tested). The point is to help parents or individual assess when it might be dangerous for kids to play outside, or enter a certain place, even when they’re at home. Parents and doctors get regular summaries of conditions and cell-phone push notification alerts as necessary.

Fischer, a fellow at the new Halcyon startup incubator, in Washington, D.C., has been developing the technology with co-founder Dan Kirk. The kit is not quite finished, and a partnership with a medical device manufacturer will be necessary to bring it to market.

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The exciting thing about the kit is not only in the increased personal safety and awareness, but also in the potential network effects. Once hundreds of people have the system installed, a picture of asthma hotspots emerges. Having real-time data linked to environmental conditions and place could be invaluable to researchers, and Fischer and Kirk are keen to share what they gather (though in strictly aggregate form).

Simultaneously, Fischer is also launching the Crowd Cure Asthma campaign. “Not enough people are talking to one another [about their asthma],” he says. “We feel like through this challenge we can identify new ideas, new trends, new theories for research, and take a global stand.”

Globally, 300 million suffer from the disease, with 250,000 dying from an attack each year. Estimates point to an increase to 400 million affected by 2025, according to the World Health Organization.

Asthma is well-suited to the kind of intervention Fischer and Kirk are developing, because the condition is strongly linked to environmental factors that can be tracked. It will be interesting to see what insights can be gleaned from the Control A+ network, should we see that network to the extent the partners are envisaging.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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