Science Daily reported this week that researchers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) have developed a sensor system that monitors the air around asthma-prone invidivuals. The sensor, which is worn inside the pockets of a vest, may help researchers understand what causes asthma attacks.
The asthma researchers hope to learn what was going on environmentally at the time of asthma attacks. Asthmatic people's lungs can overreact to environmental stimuli, so the sensor system will help indicate exactly which components cause asthma attacks in various individuals. In addition, the system will enable users to see where there are high concentrations of environmental irritants so that they can either remedy the problem or stay away from that area.
The sensor system measures an asthmatic individual's airborne exposure to formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, temperature, relative humidity and total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). These compounds are found in many everyday items, such as cleaning supplies, paints, and furniture, to name a few. A special mesh filter will also collect particles.
One of the asthma sufferers who volunteerd to test the comfort and effectiveness of the system has already gained valuable information from the system. He found that his home contained higher volatile organic exposures than anywhere else he'd been. Based on this information collected by the sensor system, the researchers found that gas and exhaust fumes were making their way into the volunteer's home from his garage.
Charlene Bayer, one of the principal GTRI researchers hopes to eventually use the sensory system to study asthmatic children's environments. She states,’With this system we can determine what children are exposed to at home, at school and outside where they play. Chances are there are some overreaching compounds that seem to trigger asthma attacks in more children.’
The correlation between environmental pollutants (many of which are undetectable by scent) and asthma attacks doesn't come as a surprise to those who experience asthma or allergic reactions when exposed to certain cleaning products or even perfumes. Although HEPA filters do a great deal to remove particulate matter such as pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander from the air, activated carbon is necessary to remove chemicals and gases like formaldehyde and VOCs. As researchers learn more about the effects of these compounds in triggering asthma attacks, many more people may come to appreciate and take advantage of the benefits of high quality air purification. Wearing masks, especially ones containing carbon filtration, in environments with high concentrations of pollutants can also help reduce the incidence of environmentally triggered asthma attacks.