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For many people, the coming and going of various allergy “seasons” can be periodic annoyances. For asthmatics, however, attacks can be debilitating and traumatic, especially when attacks come by surprise. According to the latest (2014) figures on asthma prevalence from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 7.7% of Americans suffer from asthma, or about 24 million people.

Researchers at the National Science Foundation’s Nanosystems Engineering Research Center for Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies (ASSIST) at North Carolina State University (the name of which alone is enough to render anyone breathless) are working on a three component wearable Health Tech system called the Health and Environmental Tracker (HET) to help asthma sufferers predict attacks. The three pieces in the HET system include a wristband, a patch that’s placed on the chest, and a spirometer.

The HET patch has sensors that track movement, heart rate, respiratory rate, blood oxygen, skin impedance and wheezing. Sensors in the wristband monitor volatile organic compounds, ozone humidity, temperature, motion, heart rate, and blood oxygen. The patch and wristband operate continuously, but the patient has to blow on the handheld spirometer several times a day to measure lung function. All three send wireless data to a computer that tracks and analyzes the information.

The current state of the project is testing the ability of the sensors and the computer to read, monitor, transmit, and analyze the various information types. They’ve tested the HET system in the labs and with a few people. The next stage, to be taken this summer, is to study the HET system with asthmatics and a control group. From that study, the group hopes to be better able to predict the factors that precede an attack. With that information, adjusted for individual variance, the next step would be a wearable device or set of devices that could alert asthma suffers so they can take preventive or ameliorative measures.