Asthma App: Paying Kids to Breathe Easier

FRESNO, Calif.

SubmitMikah 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," Mikah Allen told Ivanhoe.

Mikah's chronic uncontrolled asthma needs daily meds. If he forgets, exercise can trigger an attack.

"It's like somebody just coming up to you and just choking you," Allen said.

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," Dr. Giselle Mosnaim, Allergist and Immunologist, Rush University Medical Center, told Ivanhoe.

"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.Submit

Each time a kid uses 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," Dr. 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 meds.

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

SubmitNew 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?'" Jennifer Nailer, Mikah's mother, told Ivanhoe.

The study is funded by the national institutes of health and is still in clinical trials. According to Dr. 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.


Asthma App: Paying Kids to Breathe Easier -- Research Summary

BACKGROUND: Asthma is a chronic lung disease that produces extra mucus and causes airways to swell up, making it harder for people to breathe. This disease causes wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and shortness of breath that may interfere with daily activities. Typically asthma is a minor mishap, but it can lead to life-threatening asthma attacks. Though there is not a cure for asthma, there is medicine to help control symptoms. There are about 25 million people in the United States who have asthma, and seven million of them are children. Allergies are often found in those who have asthma, and smoking with asthma is known to bring out symptoms more than usual. (Source:

ASTHMA ATTACK: An asthma attack occurs when symptoms, like the tightening of muscles around the airways, worsens. The airways will produce more mucus than usual, making it a challenge for the person to breathe regularly. Some symptoms of having an asthma attack include:

  • Pale, sweaty face
  • Rapid breathing
  • Blue lips or fingernails
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty talking
  • Retractions of the neck and chest muscles (Source:

ASTHMA APP: Researches at Rush University Medical Center launched a study using multimedia coupled with positive reinforcement via a cell phone application to try to improve asthma outcomes among low-income, minority adolescents with asthma. Each participant in the study received a smartphone preloaded with an application that uses a reward system to encourage teenagers to proactively take their daily asthma controller medications. They also received a free data plan, which included unlimited talking, email, Internet, and texting, for the duration of the study. "Adolescents love technology. They spend an enormous amount of time listening to music and playing videogames, as well as using computers and mobile phones. We believe that leveraging existing use of technology would be a great way to engage adolescents and motivate them to take their medication," Dr. Giselle Mosnaim, Allergist and Immunologist at Rush University Medical Center, was quoted as saying. The controller medication is fitted with a sensor that sends a signal to the smartphone application automatically when a dose is taken. Dr. Mosnaim monitors their real-time medication-taking behavior via the data collected by the electronic dose counter, processed by the smartphone asthma application and sent to the secure server. (Source:

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