App to track allergy and asthma symptoms unveiled in Tasmania

 
Photo: Laura Van Galen uses data gleaned from monitors to feed into the app. (ABC News: Selina Ross)

Photo: Laura Van Galen uses data gleaned from monitors to feed into the app. (ABC News: Selina Ross)

 

Photo: The app is the first health-focussed project funded under the Sense-T program. (ABC News: Selina Ross)

An app that allows people with allergy and asthma issues to track their symptoms and receive air quality alerts has been unveiled in Tasmania.

AirRater brings together data from the Environment Protection Authority’s air pollution monitors, BOM weather monitoring stations and new pollen count monitors.

Fay Johnston, a senior research fellow with the University of Tasmania’s Menzies Institute for Medical Research, said it was designed for people with allergies, asthma another lung diseases, such as chronic bronchitis.

“They’re the main group of illnesses that are really affected by things like air pollution and pollen,” she said.

“What the new app will be able to do for them is it will enable them to track their symptoms on a daily basis, or however often they like during the day, and it will map their symptoms at that time and that particular place with what the environmental conditions are, where they happen to be.”

Mapping symptoms over time will provide the user with a personal database.

“That will be useful to let them know whether it’s, for example, pollution or whether it’s cold air, whether it’s grass pollen or birch pollen, if there’s a particular environmental trigger for their symptoms they’ll be able to work that out in a way that hasn’t been possible before.”

Dr Johnston said it would allow users to adapt their behaviour to minimise their symptoms.

“It will have information available in real time, so you can just look and find out what the conditions are,” she said.

“But even more importantly than that, it’s designed to deliver alerts and those alerts can be tailored to an individual’s needs and how they respond to the environment so they can be quite personal.”

The data will also be used to help the Health Department alert the public about weather events such as heat waves.

“The Health Department will get an automatic message that the heat wave is coming, how severe it might be, which parts of Tasmania might be affected,” Dr Johnston said.

“They decide what the level of risk is, then decide what levels of warnings, whether it be simply education to the public: what to do, maintaining fluids, looking after vulnerable relatives, also communicating with hospitals, ambulance services who may need to change their level of service capacity for the period.”

The app is the first health-focussed project funded under the Sense-T program, based at the University of Tasmania.

Sufferer gives app the thumbs up

Mel Rollins is an allergy sufferer who has been involved in the testing phase of the app.

She said using it was much easier than finding the information from different sources.

“Having it in that one place basically in the palm of my hand, in my phone, has just made it more convenient,” she said.

“If you’re going to go out for a walk with a two-year-old you’ve already got enough to gather up without having to check to see if there’s a bushfire somewhere, the wind direction, the EPA or anything like that.

“I can get out the door, log it on and away I go.”

President of the Asthma Foundation of Tasmania Kevin Morgan said the app would be very useful.

“To be able to see what the current levels are, to see whether they can do their outdoor activities and what they need to do to overcome it so they can get by without too much of a problem,” he said.

“I’m not aware of anything like this, certainly not an app like this, where they can go and get this information.”

Mr Morgan expected it would be particularly popular with younger people suffering asthma and allergies.

“It’s going to build up their profile of their allergies and their responses to various weather conditions, it’s going to build that up over some months.”

The app is free of charge.