WSU study will use phone app to help people with asthma during wildfire season

People walk along a smoky street.
Young people who have asthma will test a phone app to help them manage their condition during wildfire season in a WSU College of Nursing-led study that’s getting under way.

Young people who have asthma will test a phone app to help them manage their condition during wildfire season in a Washington State University College of Nursing-led study that’s getting under way.

The study is currently recruiting participants ages 18-26 in the Pacific Northwest, said Julie Postma, principal investigator and associate dean for research at the College of Nursing.

“We want to help young people with asthma prepare for wildfire smoke and learn to manage it so they can stay active and healthy,” she said.

The study is based on a phone app developed by the EPA that tracks air quality, active fires and the direction of smoke plumes. It offers information to reduce smoke exposure and asks users questions about their health and activities for a crowd-sourced look at how people respond to wildfire smoke.

The app doesn’t have a specific component for asthma, however.

As part of Postma’s study, funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, she is modifying the app with the permission of the EPA and developers from Urbanova.

The new app includes weekly tips about asthma management, such as making sure medications are refilled, taking controller medications daily, and knowing where albuterol inhalers are located. It also allows users to monitor their lung function with a handheld spirometer that records their results on their mobile phone. That way, they can monitor how wildfire smoke impacts their lungs.

All of the expected 60 participants will complete questionnaires and agree to track their lung function using a spirometer for two months. A third will also use the phone app, and the final third will use the modified app for people with asthma.

Interested in taking part?

To be eligible, you must be:

  • 18-26 years old
  • Diagnosed with asthma by a health care provider
  • Own a smart phone (Android or iOS platforms)
  • Speak and read English

You could earn between $100 and $200 in Amazon gift cards depending on your group assignment.

Contact us to see if you are eligible:

“By linking air quality data with lung function monitoring we hope to prevent asthma symptoms during the wildfire season,” Postma noted. “We designed the app to help people recognize how smoke impacts their lungs and makes them feel, and prevent breathing wildfire smoke.”

Though Postma and her co-investigators from the WSU colleges of nursing, medicine and engineering are launching the study during what has become a predictable late-summer wildfire season, the study doesn’t require a certain number of smoky days to be viable.

Other organizations taking part in the study include Urbanova, a public-private partnership in Spokane’s University District, and the EPA.

“It’s community-based research,” Postma said. “Since the 2017 and 2018 wildfire seasons in Spokane, there has been considerable collaboration with community partners in seeking support for innovative strategies to reduce risks.”

Postma said the second part of the study will be focused on data analysis. She expects to use the results from this study to propose a future larger clinical trial.

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