Breathing easier

Humans have been inhaling more than just air since ancient times, with the Greeks and Egyptians taking in incense and essential oils ­and later opiates ­as a means to cure disease, speak to the gods and catch a little rest and relaxation.

The Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian medical paper dating back to 1550 B.C. includes reference to the inhalation of snuff, vapours and smoke for the treatment of nasal ailments.

In the ancient Arabic world, narcotic­based inhalation was commonplace for medical use, and whilst modern medicine did away with most of the more dubious breathable, various gases other than good old-fashioned air continued to be sucked in throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

It wasn’t until 1955 that the modern asthma inhaler ­ the pump­action kind ­ came along. That was invented by an American doctor called George Maison for his daughter, who struggled to properly take in her medication using a nebuliser. A Nebuliser is an on­the­face mask, like the kind used to give oxygen to unconscious people.

We’re not breathing right

As it turns out, Maison’s daughter wasn’t the only one struggling with her asthma medication. It’s a problem that persists today, with inefficient use of inhalers leading people to waste medication by simply spraying it on the backs of their throats.

So, what’s going wrong? There are three distinct parts to the self­administration of asthma medication from a pressurised inhaler:

1. The shake

2. The press

3. The inhale

Sounds pretty simple, right? But, in order to get the most medication into the lungs as possible, the ‘shake, press, inhale’ system has to be executed with extreme precision. That’s where Cambridge Consultants come in.

Introducing the t­Haler

The t­Haler is a wireless, electronic inhaler training device. It’s part of an interactive programme which includes real­time feedback, designed to tell users how efficient their inhaler technique is.

According to Cambridge Consultants, “three out of every four asthma sufferers fail to use their inhaler correctly”, which in practice, means that they’re either getting an insufficient dose to begin with, or that when they do dose, most of the drug ends up sticking to the throat and not making it to the lungs.

Asthma UK estimates that a potentially life­threatening asthma attack, is occurring somewhere in the UK every 10 seconds, which makes education about the proper use of inhalers incredibly important.

How does the Cambridge Consultants tHaler work?

The tHaler is, in a sense, a game. The more accurate your performance, the better your score.

The system, which includes a wireless digital inhaler connected to a screen, measures whether you’ve shaken the device, how hard you’ve inhaled, and at what point during administration you pressed to release the drugs (there are no drugs in the test.)

During their initial studies of the t­Haler in 2012, Cambridge Consultants were able to take users from a 20% success rate, to a 60% success rate in just three minutes. Success being defined as an efficient use of the inhaler.

What does this mean for regular people?

An asthma attack is terrifying, and over 1,200 people died from it in 2014 (Asthma UK). Knowing how to use an asthma inhaler properly, not only reduces the time spent in an attack, it could save lives.

Explore further

Cambridge Consultants on the tHaler
Using an inhaler, The Science Museum

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