New smartphone app can predict asthma deterioration by measuring night-time coughing

A smartphone app that measures night-time coughing in asthma sufferers has been developed by scientists.

By Leanne Clarke
Tuesday, 25th August 2020, 7:30 am

A smartphone app that measures night-time coughing in asthma sufferers has been developed by scientists.

It can tell if the condition is getting worse - enabling patients to change their medication.

The device will improve monitoring to help keep symptoms under control, say the Swiss team.

A smartphone app that measures night-time coughing in asthma sufferers has been developed by scientists.

Creator Dr Frank Rassouli, from the Cantonal Hospital St. Gallen, said: "Until now, we haven't had a reliable tool for measuring peoples' asthma overnight - so we know very little about night-time coughing and what it means.

"The current focus of our research group is using technology and simple interventions to improve the management of chronic lung diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

"Smartphones have lots of potential to monitor different symptoms and detect changes early, so we worked with our research partners from University of St. Gallen and ETH Zurich to develop an app for measuring coughing."

The device presented at the virtual European Respiratory Society International is the first to measure patients' coughing over a series of nights.

A study of 94 patients showed it's a sign of their asthma deteriorating - representing a new way to adjust therapy.

They were being treated at the Cantonal Hospital's Lung Centre and the mediX Group Practice in Zurich.

Each participant visited their clinic at the beginning and end of the study. They were assessed for their use of asthma drugs, symptoms such as shortness of breath and the impact their condition had on their daily life.

For 29 days in between they slept with a smartphone in their bedroom with the app running.

It measured the noise of their night-time coughing - and also prompted patients to report the symptoms.

The researchers found that the amount of night-time coughing varied a lot from one patient to the next.

But they also found a strong link between an increase in night-time coughing over the course of a week and a subsequent worsening of symptoms.

Dr Rassouli said: "Our results suggest that night-time coughing can be measured fairly simply with a smartphone app and that an increase in coughing at night is an indicator that asthma is deteriorating.

"Monitoring asthma is really important because if we can spot early signs that it's getting worse, we can adjust medication to prevent asthma attacks."

Following the successful trial Dr Rassouli and colleagues plan to try the same technology out with people who have COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Prof Thierry Troosters, President of the European Respiratory Society who was not involved in the study, said: "Asthma is a common condition, affecting millions of people in Europe alone.

"It cannot be cured, but by ensuring that patients use their treatments as prescribed by their doctors, asthma can usually be well-controlled.

"Uncontrolled asthma can interfere with school or work and lead to serious asthma attacks.

"This study offers a potential new way to monitor patients for signs that their asthma might be getting worse, and the fact that it works via a smartphone makes it accessible to most patients.

"The app could also make it easier to gather lots of data to study night-time coughing in asthma and other respiratory conditions.

"The elegant mix of easy and available hardware such as a smartphone, combined with artificial intelligence that can work with 'noisy' data, will provide clinicians with additional eyes and ears to judge the clinical condition of their patients in real life, rather than only at the doctors' office.

"Asthma patients should still consult their doctor if they feel that their symptoms are worsening in any way, even if technologies like this do not highlight an increase in night-time coughing or other symptoms."

The UK has some of the highest rates of asthma in Europe. It affects 1.1 million children - around one-in-eleven. About 4.3 million adults also suffer. On average three people a day die from the condition.