Wearables to Fight Allergies

By Temma Ehrenfeld  @temmaehrenfeld
November 16, 2016
Wearable for fighting allergies

Portable testing devices and desensitizing patches are on the way.

Smart watches can tell us how many steps we’re taking, and even judge our mood. And now, devices to help us manage allergies are on the way. 

About 30 percent of American adults and 40 percent of children have an allergy, and close to 9 percent of our children live with asthma, which interferes with breathing. 

Almost 10,000 people end up in the hospital because of a food allergy each year, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. They may have been unaware of the allergy, or sometimes foods are hidden in a dish. Hidden fish, egg, and soy are the most likely to cause a surprise allergic reactions. Although parents have a lot of anxiety about peanuts, examples of people reacting to hidden nuts or fruits are rare, research suggests.


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Technology in the works may help alleviate that anxiety, though no tool can be a total solution. Allergy Amulet, for example, is creating necklaces, watches, and cellphone cases that carry disposable allergen detection strips. You (or your child) will have to remember to dip one of the strips into food and test it in a sensor that sounds an alarm if it picks up peanuts — or, in future strips, dairy, shellfish, and gluten. The device only evaluates a specific food sample, so there might be an allergen elsewhere in that serving or another one. The estimated launch date: 2018.

In just two minutes, another device, called Nima, aims to tell you whether a food contains gluten. Customers can pre-order to get a device sometime in 2016, according to the website.  

A rival startup called DOTS Devices is developing technology that would be used for rapid, on-the-spot detection of allergens, including food allergens, according to a patent application posted on the World Intellectual Property Organization website. 

Tellspec is developing a small portable device that analyzes food in great detail, so, beyond information about allergens, you’d know just how much corn syrup or industrial chemicals it contains. 

Other electronic devices can give you information about the air or your bodily reactions. The first signs of an anaphylactic response may be mild, a runny nose or a skin rash. But within about 30 minutes, you’ll see one or more of several other symptoms: throat or tongue swelling, shortness of breath, vomiting, lightheadedness, wheezing, or confusion. That kind of response warrants an immediate trip to the emergency room, where the standard treatment is the drug epinephrine. The goal of Project ABBIE is a wearable that would detect the earliest signals of an anaphylactic response, and inject epinephrine immediately. That may be especially useful if you are in danger of anaphylactic reactions to insect stings, which kill as many as 90 to 100 people a year in the United States. 

Asthma is scary too. With TZOA (prounounced “zoa”), a round device with a smartphone app, you’ll get information on the temperature and the concentration of airborne allergens and pollutants that might trigger asthma. ADAMM, which you’ll need to attach to your chest, monitors information like coughs that could alert you earlier to an imminent asthma attack. 

De-sensitizing patches are another future option, perhaps using a material called “Viaskin” that would contain tiny amounts of an allergen and help you learn to tolerate exposure to peanuts, milk, or eggs. Clinical trials are underway. 

Especially for people with the most severe allergies, these wearables shouldn’t replace the ways they’re now protecting themselves. The device could fail, or make you take risks. You might arm your child with a strip to test a cookie, and she’ll diligently test one and assume the rest are all okay. People with serious allergies will still have to be vigilant, asking the waiter to double-check for allergens and checking ingredient labels in packaged foods. But having these new tools could make you or your child safer.


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November 16, 2016

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN