Experts in Southampton use innovative 'checkerboard light' to measure breathing patterns in asthma patients


Researchers in Southampton are using new non-invasive technology to measure breathing patterns in people with asthma.

The technology, known as ‘structured light plethysmography’, projects a checkerboard light onto a person’s chest to accurately record their abdominal and chest movements.

Panagiotis Sakkatos, a respiratory physiotherapist PhD student at the University of Southampton’s faculty of health sciences, is leading the study and believes this technology will help doctors to better understand how breathing patterns can be used to help people with asthma monitor and control their condition.

Controlling asthma

Asthma is a common long-term lung condition that causes breathing difficulties, with symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and chest tightness. It affects people of all ages and there are currently 5.4 million people receiving treatment for asthma in the UK.

There is currently no cure for asthma so it is important patients are able to keep symptoms under control to reduce its impact on daily life.

“Having control over their condition is a major goal for asthma patients. Many use inhalers and steroids to do this, but having an early indicator of when their asthma is getting worse or better is important to optimise their control,” explains Panagiotis.

One technique that is currently used to monitor their condition is a ‘spirometry test’ which is a simple device that patients blow into to measure how fast they breathe out. They receive a score which they can compare to previous results to show if their condition is getting better or worse.

“We know that techniques to monitor breathing patterns, such as the spirometry test, work well alongside other asthma controls to help patients manage their condition.

“We hope to show the new technology will not only give doctors and patients more in-depth information regarding the patterns but also the ability to monitor people without exacerbating their symptoms – especially those with severe asthma.”

Accurate results

Whilst this new technology can accurately record a patient’s breathing patterns and give doctors much more detailed information, it is a simple technique that takes just five minutes to complete. The checkerboard of light is projected onto a patient’s chest and movements are tracked by a camera and processed into a 3D model instantly.

“Patients are able to breathe naturally whilst their breathing patterns are being recorded – without the need of a facemask or mouthpiece – allowing normal movements to be recorded.”

“As the only non-invasive, contactless device available to accurately measure abdominal and chest movements, we hope patients will be more willing to use this method compared to current tests that can exacerbate their condition.”

What’s next?

If breathing patterns are shown to be relevant for monitoring asthma, the team are looking to develop this technology further with the ambition of creating a device that could work outside the hospital including in patient homes.

Giving patients the ability to accurately track their asthma at home not only gives them better control over their condition but it can also reduce the need for them to come into hospital as they can identify when their condition is worsening and visit their GP before the flare-up is too serious.

To find out more, or if you would be interested in taking part, please email Panagiotis (Panos) Sakkatos.

This study has been jointly funded by the British Lung Foundation and Wessex Medical Trust.

Posted on Thursday 19 April 2018