News & Design Blog

Medical Design Innovation for Asthma

When I went for my most recent asthma check-up, I ended up in an in-depth and interesting conversation with my doctor about the effectiveness of several different types of asthma inhalers. One of the most interesting points that came up was how innefective any of these inhalers can be when used on their own; apparently as little as 30% as effective as when used with an asthma spacer. For any of our readers who don’t know, an asthma spacer is a device designed to hold the medicine ejected from an inhaler in a chamber so that it may be inhaled gradually in order to be more effective.

I then told my doctor the story of the time I had to take a knife to a Lucozade bottle during an asthma attack to fashion a DIY spacer of sorts, because I couldn’t justify the additional cost of a spacer when my inhalers on their own would do a good enough job the majority of the time. I’ve now thankfully invested in a spacer, but last night in an early-autumn-cold-induced wheezefest I remembered my appropriation of an empty bottle and wondered if there were any innovations around disposable or low-cost asthma spacers, which led me to discovering the Respira.

About The Respira Asthma Spacer

Respira Asthma Spacer

Back in 2007, the team at Stanford University‘s Extreme, a course focussed around design for extreme affordability, devised an (extremely) affordable solution for asthmatics who require spacers.

The team’s research focussed in Mexico and found that as young children are unable to coordinate their breathing with the puff of an aerosol inhaler, spacers are a necessity. Unfortunately, spacers are generally either too expensive or inaccessible to the public, which means most asthma attacks ending in hospital visits when correct treatment could be administered at home with the correct apparatus.

After three months of class work, the team came up with an elegant solution: an asthma spacer made out of a single, folded sheet of paper. The design had the basic functionality of more expensive spacers for a tiny fraction of the cost. Because paper stacks flat, these spacers can be transported to even the most remote hospitals and clinics, and sent home with any asthma patient.

– Excerpt from the Respira Project Page

PDG are no strangers to medical equipment design, and truly appreciate the beautiful simplicity and extreme affordability of this solution.

Unfortunately, as the project is from some eight years ago at the time of writing, their website is no longer functional, but you can still read about the project in full on the Stanford University Website’s Project Page, Changemakers, or Core77.

Final thoughts: Given that asthma inhalers are less efective on their own, we can presume that the majority are designed without spacers built-in so that they can be carried in a pocket and used in an emergency. However, if they were produced with an integral spacer, would there be fewer emergencies meaning they wouldn’t need to be pocket-sized? Leave a comment below and let us which factor you think is most important.

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