Health Beat: Asthma app: Paying kids to breathe easier

Health Beat: Asthma app: Paying kids to breathe easier

CHICAGO - Asthma triggers more school absences and hospitalizations than any other chronic condition in this country, affecting more than seven million children.

Quick release medications can help kids control symptoms, if they remember to take them. Now, researchers are developing a new app that could help.

Mikah Allen loves playing basketball.

"When I try to keep up with the other kids, play with them, play how they play, it gets hard because they don't have what I got," said Allen, whose chronic, uncontrolled asthma needs daily medications. If he forgets, exercise can trigger an attack. "It's like somebody just coming up to you and just choking you."

Every year, asthma accounts for 13 million missed school days and one quarter of all emergency room visits. It's something Dr. Giselle Mosnaim knows too well.

"If they would take their medications, these could be avoidable," said Mosnaim, allergist and immunologist, Rush University Medical Center.

"It just slips my mind sometimes," Allen said.

Now, researchers are giving high-risk teens something they'll never forget, a smart phone loaded with a special app that turns taking your medicine into a game.

Each time kids use their daily controller medication inhaler, they can play to earn rewards on Google Play.

"So, they get 50 cents that they can spend on music, apps, TV shows, and movies," Mosnaim said.

Teens can earn up to a dollar a day for Google Play rewards. Meanwhile, researchers are tracking when and where kids take their medications.

"We can also intervene at that moment. If we see they're missing doses of medicine, we send them a message," Mosnaim said.

It's new technology that's helping Mikah and his mom breathe easier.

"It's something else other than me yelling, or saying, 'Did you take your pump?'" said Jennifer Nailer, Allen's mother.

The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and is still in clinical trials. According to Mosnaim, there are lots of asthma apps out there, but very few of them have this kind of clinical trial data behind them.

Researchers believe once kids start feeling better after following their daily controller medication regimen with the new app, they'll be more likely to continue using their daily controller medication inhalers and stay out of the emergency room and hospital.

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