App may help asthma patients during wildfire season

Researchers recruit young adults for study to test app; smoke can exacerbate asthma, cause anxiety

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ANNIKA ZEIGLER

Researchers hope to enroll 60 students in a study to determine whether asthma app is beneficial. The app includes a feature for young adults to share symptom-prevention tips.

EMMA LEDBETTER, Evergreen reporter

Researchers at the WSU College of Nursing are testing a new app that may help young adults with asthma manage their symptoms during wildfire season. 

Wildfire smoke can exacerbate asthma symptoms. Wildfires are becoming an increasing problem in the Inland Northwest, said Julie Postma, the study’s principal investigator and associate dean for research in the College of Nursing. 

Participants will use an app called U-TRAK. They will collect data on their lung function using a hand-held spirometer, Postma said. A spirometer can provide early warning of an asthma attack before symptoms appear. 

Young people aged 18-26 who have been diagnosed with asthma are eligible to participate in the study, and Postma said researchers are recruiting participants.

“People that age with asthma are still establishing patterns for chronic disease management, thinking about ways to care for themselves while living independently and remaining active,” she said. 

U-TRAK uses the Environmental Protection Agency’s Smoke Sense app, but the test app includes additional features specific for monitoring asthma. It also has a function for peer-to-peer sharing for young adults to strategize about symptom-prevention tips, Postma said.

“It’s not always doctors and nurses that are giving health advice,” she said. “We can really learn from each other as well.”

Some symptom-prevention tips include staying in locations where air is filtered, recirculating air in a car instead of bringing it in from outside and refilling inhaler prescriptions before wildfire season begins in August.

Living in an area with sustained smoke and not knowing what to do can be anxiety-provoking, which can exacerbate asthma. Postma hopes the app will help reduce the stress and anxiety caused by wildfire smoke. 

Asthma is more common than most people realize. Even people with allergic asthma or exercise-induced asthma, both of which have specific triggers other than smoke, can be affected by wildfire smoke, said Ross Bindler, a research associate for the study.

Postma said the researchers hope to determine if the app is user-friendly and beneficial to participants before starting a larger study. The current study aims to enroll 60 participants. 

“It’s a great opportunity to be able to use smartphone technology,” Bindler said. “These participants, they know they’re able to handle [their symptoms] with a little bit of help from the app.”

Individuals interested in participating in the study can email nursing.TRAK@wsu.edu.