Brighton academic helps create phone app for asthma sufferers

Posted On 01 Feb 2011 at 5:35 pm

A Brighton university lecturer is helping to develop an iPhone application to let asthma sufferers know when air quality worsens.

Dr Kirsty Smallbone, principal lecturer at the School of Environment and Technology at Brighton University, hopes to cut through the jargon and “incomprehensible and meaningless” data.

Her aim is to help people to stay healthy by providing them with easy to use information in a format that they can understand through their phone.

Dr Smallbone said: “Air pollution is increasingly recognised as a trigger for the exacerbation of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

“Consequently, people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heart conditions may find their illness worsens on days with high air pollution.

“In addition, the elderly and the very young are more vulnerable to air pollution due to their reduced lung function.

“Even people who are otherwise healthy active individuals may be affected by particularly high levels of air pollution.

“For instance, runners may notice that their performance worsens on days characterised by sunny still air, which can often lead to episodes of high ozone pollution. 

“Clearly then, there is a need to communicate technical, scientific information about air pollution, measured in running means and daily averages, to people who may not necessarily have a science background.

“My research has shown that people are not even aware that air pollution, especially rural air pollution, could have a detrimental effect on vulnerable people’s health.

“Indeed local parks and rural areas are seen as ‘safe spaces’, places to escape the effects of air pollution.

“This is not necessarily the case.

“Furthermore, although local authorities are obliged to provide air quality information to the public, much of the data is often incomprehensible and meaningless, tucked away on a council webpage.

“As such, the provision of sensible and understandable information, in a format that is easy to access and use, is important to allow people considered ‘at risk’ to make behavioural choices about their activities.

“Building on my positive evaluation of a project in London and Sussex where local councils text vulnerable people the air pollution forecasts for the next day, King’s College has developed an iPhone application which allows people to download real-time air quality data from their nearest monitoring station.

“Although not perfect yet and still in a test phase, it is hoped that by combining the work I have done on communicating air quality information to the public with King’s College’s technological know-how, we will soon be in a position to enable people to make lifestyle choices based on air pollution information.”

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