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AIR Louisville Project Uses Collaborative Approach in Researching Respiratory Ailments

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The Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil has relaunched a project to track and monitor respiratory illness and prevalence in Jefferson County.

AIR Louisville is a data-driven project that uses sensors attached to inhalers to collect information about flare ups of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the city. The sensors pick up the whereabouts of the person using the inhaler, and also the time of day when flare ups happen.

The project is a collaboration between the institute, Propeller Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Mayor Greg Fischer's office.

An earlier pilot project, which launched in 2013 with 300 people, illustrated asthma for the first time, said Ted Smith, executive director of the institute. But along with the knowledge of how people were affected, also came the responsibility to do something about it.

"My driving goal at the moment is to get us off the list of 10 worst places to live if you have asthma or allergies. I want off the list … as soon as possible," Smith said.

Last year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Louisville as the most challenging place to live with allergies.

With a $750,ooo grant from the RWJF, a philanthropic organization decided to health, the institute hopes to provide 2,000 sensors to Louisville residents.

Once a resident receives a sensor, they attach it the top of their inhaler and download a mobile app to begin recording the date, time and location of their inhaler usage.

Roxanne Jones, 49, and her 11-year-old daughter, Amanda, found out about the sensors while at an event in 2013. Both have asthma.

Jones said Amanda's symptoms are triggered by pollen, black walnut, cats, dogs and several other allergens. When they first started using the sensors, Amanda was taking seven medications to control her allergies and asthma. After sharing reports from the sensors with Amanda's allergist, she was able to stop using two of her medications.

"I love the reports I was getting letting me know don't take her there, don't do this with her, avoid this area so she wouldn't have a problem sitting there gasping for breath," Jones said.

But this time around, very few sensors will be given away at local events. The Institute has partnered with Brown-Forman, Passport Health Plan, and Family, Allergy and Asthma—an asthma and allergy practice in Kentucky and Southern Indiana—to enroll employees and patients in the project. They hope more businesses and organizations will join the project.

Data will be anonymously shared with the Louisville officials in hopes of helping the city allocate funds to improving air quality throughout the city.
David Van Sickle, CEO of Propeller Health—the mobile platform providing and tracking the sensors—said the connection between air pollution and asthma is well known, and the AIR Louisville project will help people manage their own symptoms.  

"We're for the first time able to use technology to really make that process virtually painless and easy for the individual patient," he said.