Know your cough! It could be the secret to getting the care you need

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Adrian Monti

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Coughing is one of the most irritating symptoms experienced by people with chronic respiratory diseases. However, experts now believe that a person’s pattern of coughing could indicate a change in their clinical status. Digital health company, NuvoAir, is leading the way with the release of a mobile app which records coughs and allows the user and their clinicians to build a more detailed picture of their health over time.

How does it work?

The tool is a new addition to the NuvoAir Home platform. NuvoAir Cough, which is currently available for iPhones, uses the phone’s microphone and an algorithm that filters out background noise to count instances of cough.

The app’s findings, alongside other measurements which can be obtained with the NuvoAir Home platform - such as lung function, oxygen saturation, air quality, and physical activity - can help guide healthcare teams to make appropriate interventions at the right time.

Being able to accurately collect data on coughing could be a game changer in treating these respiratory diseases. That’s why NuvoAir Cough could soon play a significant role in healthcare.

Why is coughing relevant?

Coughing is common in conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cystic fibrosis. Research shows that if a person is coughing more frequently, it could be an early sign that their lung health is worsening and possibly that an intervention is needed. Alternatively, if coughing has reduced in frequency, it might indicate that any tweaks to their treatment - such as a change in their medication - is working well. Below are a few key study findings on the importance of monitoring cough.

A paper from researchers at Hull York Medical School noted that cough was the ‘cardinal symptom’ of COPD, a disease which is predicted to be the fourth leading cause of death in the world by 2030. It concluded that detecting a greater frequency of coughing could be an early indicator of the disease worsening. Meanwhile, a study from the University of Liverpool called for more attention to be given to the assessment of coughing among those with COPD, rather than focusing primarily on airflow rates.

Asthma affects over 300 million people around the world and most asthma related deaths are preventable. Yet getting the right treatment and action plan is based on the degree of asthma control a person has - largely defined by symptoms reported. Unfortunately, people are often unaware of their nighttime symptoms such as coughing and wheezing. Objective versus subjective data are sorely needed as many underreport symptoms and overestimate their asthma control. A multinational study with 4274 patients showed 71% of patients who reported their asthma to be ‘well-controlled’ were, in fact, incorrect in their understanding.

Finally, a study from Wythenshawe Hospital with adults living with cystic fibrosis recorded and analyzed their coughing during and after treatment for an acute worsening of their respiratory symptoms, known as a pulmonary exacerbation. This research concluded that cough rates fell significantly both day and night when patients were being successfully treated. It also suggests that a rise in coughing at night could be used to indicate a pulmonary exacerbation, which requires medical intervention.

How will this app help patients?

NuvoAir Cough provides technology to make monitoring cough not only possible, but easy to do. From the comfort of home, while sleeping or working quietly at a computer or relaxing on the sofa, cough recording can unobtrusively take place with one barely noticing.

Along with other established markers used to assess respiratory patients, cough may not only be a way of clearing the lungs, but also help clear the path to a better understanding of how to manage these conditions.