A new Smartphone application designed by researchers at the University of Washington, UW Medicine and Seattle Children's Hospital has the potential to save the lives of people suffering from asthma and other respiratory diseases by allowing them to measure lung functions, so far only possible with spirometers, with nothing but a smartphone.

Called SpiroSmart, the app uses the patient's trachea and vocal tract as natural tubes to replace the spirometers, which measure the intensity and speed of the patient's breathing ... and can cost thousands of dollars. SpiroSmart can detect breath resonances in those tube-like parts of the human body by analyzing sound wave frequencies. These tell the user how much flow is going through those organs, which is what a clinician usually needs to know.

The researchers carried out tests on 52 mostly healthy volunteers using an iPhone 4S smartphone. The results showed the app came within 5.1 percent of a commercial portable spirometer, thus meeting medical standards of accuracy. The researchers highlighted that a variation of three percent is impossible to avoid due to natural difference in how much effort a patient uses to exhale during each test.

SpiroSmart is not the first smartphone app designed to measure lung function, but none of the options released so far have met the requirements for medical use. There are also cheaper home testing systems that cost a few hundred dollars, but they can be quite complex and not so easy to carry around like a smartphone. Being able to carry out the tests at home more frequently could lead to an earlier detection of worsening conditions and potentially prevent a dash to the emergency room.

When the app is commercially available, people who suffer from asthma and other chronic lung conditions could also avoid a few trips to the doctor every year to blow into the spirometer.

The results of the test were presented earlier this month at the Association for Computing Machinery's International Conference on Ubiquitous Computing. Further clinical tests on patients of varying ages and lung health conditions will be carried out with financial aid from the Coulter Foundation. UW's Center for Commercialization is the researchers' commercial partner.

The short video below demonstrates how the SpiroSmart app works.

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