According to the World Health Organization Asthma is a serious public health problem with over 100 million sufferers worldwide. It continues to be one of the major causes of hospitalization of children in many countries. A study in 1994 on the prevalence of asthma among school children in the UAE has shown that the prevalence of Asthma among school children is at 13.6% (Bener, Abdulrazzaq, Debuse, & Al-Mutawwa, 1994). A more recent research conducted a survey to assess the current level of asthma control in UAE. The study showed that current level of Asthma control in the UAE is far from optimal and that more than 64% of the studied cases reported sudden severe Asthma attacks in 2009 (Mahboub, Santhakumar, Soriano, & Pawankar, 2010). The study also showed that 52.8% of the children and 17.1% of the adults missed school and work because of Asthma.

In Asthma sensitive people symptoms are initiated by breathing in allergy-causing substances also known as triggers. Most people diagnosed with Asthma have attacks separated by symptom-free periods. Since there is no cure for Asthma, the goal of treatment is to control it by avoiding substances that trigger symptoms in the hopes of extending symptom-free periods. Research has identified several factors associated with the development of Asthma, such as exposure to traffic exhaust fumes, tobacco smoke, pesticides, heat and humidity, and changes in the weather, but none have proven to be the causative agent. Rather, Asthma development has been attributed to an inherit susceptibility towards a combination of environmental factors.

Asthma specialists have also shown that the combination of extreme weather conditions, such as heat and high humidity, escalates some Asthma attacks and consequently leads to mortality (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012) (HealthGuidance). It has been also observed that people who remain in air-conditioned rooms for a long time can become easily susceptible to some diseases when exposed to extreme temperature, particularly in UAE. In many of these studies environmental conditions related to Asthma have been measured in a broad manner, (i.e. studies were based on summarized data collected in large scale areas such as cities). Asthma triggers vary by patient, region, and time. Thus, individual-based measurement of exposure to certain levels of environmental factors is needed for developing more accurate diagnoses on the causes of acute Asthma episodes.

The intellectual merit of this project is to develop a health monitoring system for modeling individual exposure to environmental triggers of Asthma attacks and analyzing the effectiveness of the model. The proposed health monitoring system gathers time/location data from patients through location aware devices such as GPS that are embedded in their cell phones. The system also collects various environmental measurements such as humidity level and smoke concentration through wireless sensors. The data collected by these location and sensor devices will be transmitted continuously through sensor and mobile networks to a database server. Then, the developed analyses model at the server side will analyze the collected data using a spatio-temporal integration model to derive conclusions that will help in providing a better insight into the causes of Asthma.

Although we are targeting Asthma patients in this project, it should be noted that the proposed system is universal and can be used for any environmentally triggered disease. In conclusion, the proposed system supports general public health through an individual’s health care management, reduces the cost, effort, and time spent in traditional visits to hospitals, and provides intelligent information that might be useful for improving public health care strategies.

Research Objectives

The main goal of the proposed research is to develop a system that will, in real-time, acquire and communicate with patients and healthcare providers the environmental factors surrounding an episode of acute Asthma. To meet this goal, we will accomplish the following objectives:

  • (1) Design and develop an environmental data acquisition system for synchronizing environmental conditions with early flare-up.
  • (2) Design a location-based tracking system and develop cost models to optimize continuous tracking of data with limited resources.
  • (3) Develop analysis tools that can determine the combination of environmental triggers that pose risk to a patient and the effect of each trigger in producing a severe Asthma attack.
  • (4) Implement flexible and scalable visual evaluation tools for health decision support.