Environmental factors, such as air pollution and pollen levels, are influences known to significantly impact overall health. For patients with chronic respiratory conditions, these environmental factors can be triggers that mark the difference between a symptom-free day and an emergency room visit.1,2 However, despite their known health impacts, little research had been done to understand how people with chronic respiratory disease perceive and seek information regarding environmental risks – until now.
A study recently published in Frontiers in Digital Health – one of the first digital health studies to survey and evaluate patient perceptions of environmental influences – demonstrated that a majority of patients with asthma and COPD believe that a handful of specific environmental factors may make their symptoms worse.
An analysis of survey responses collected from nearly 700 participants, all of whom use Propeller’s precision digital health platform to manage their chronic respiratory conditions, showed that pollen, mold, second-hand smoke and air pollution were the leading environmental factors perceived by users to worsen their symptoms.
Fortunately, for the majority of study participants, acknowledging these common environmental risks did not reduce their sense of agency or desire to take control of their health, despite how prevalent they are. In fact, more than 60% of participants felt that they could personally do something to limit the impact of environmental factors on their respiratory symptoms.
One of the actions that the majority of participants reported doing to mitigate the effects of their environmental exposures was trying to avoid their known outdoor triggers. Gathering daily environmental information can be a useful step in empowering patients to reduce their exposure to known triggers.
Based on survey results, this approach appeared to be a common practice among participants, with 95% of participants with asthma and 98% with COPD reporting that they seek information about air pollution daily from a variety of sources. Participants used an average of three sources and demonstrated strongest preferences towards mobile apps and television programs.
These insights can be leveraged to better understand the unique needs of people with chronic respiratory disease, and help inform the development of solutions that will best support their care journeys. We must deliver resources to patients wherever they are most receptive to it – through digital media, for example – and provide the information they require to better educate themselves about their conditions and make sustainable behavior changes. It is also imperative to encourage patients to have meaningful discussions with their clinical providers, especially to ensure that their perceptions of triggers align with current clinical understanding.
Digital health apps, such as Propeller, can play a critical role in educating chronic respiratory patients about their conditions, and further empower them to learn about and avoid the environmental factors that can exacerbate their symptoms.
This study was sponsored by the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE) through funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
1Global Initiative for Asthma, Global Strategy for Asthma Management and Prevention Report (2022)
2Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), Global Strategy for Prevention, Diagnosis and Management of COPD Report (2022)