You've probably heard the saying, "The nose knows." This is especially true when it comes to a diagnostic tool called the electric nose, which researchers now believe can effectively identify asthma patients by smell. Intrigued? Read on to find out how this innovative machine works and what it might do for you.

The Electric Nose Sniffs Out lllnesses

Modern technology has made it possible for scientists to recreate the way human senses work to recognize a variety of smells. They've adapted the very process you use every day to tell that food is fresh or that flowers are in bloom. The electric nose takes things a step further, though, "sniffing" out people who suffer from a variety of health conditions, including asthma. While the electric nose can be effective on its own, its accuracy increases even more when it's used in conjunction with other diagnostic options.

How an Electric Nose Operates

The way the electric nose works is by "reading" an odor so it can create a "print" of its makeup, which it then stores for future reference. Then, when it comes into contact with similar smells, it can use this as a basis to compare the odors and locate matches. This actually makes it possible to identify a host of illnesses. In fact, in addition to asthma, the electric nose has been successfully used to identify pneumonia and lung cancer patients, too.

A Study on the Diagnostic Capacity of the Electric Nose

A study included in the April 2010 issue of CHEST, the journal published by the American College of Chest Physicians, introduces the results of a study conducted by Italian researchers on this topic. The researchers wanted to see how effective the electric nose is in telling the difference between asthma patients and healthy counterparts. To accomplish this goal, the electric nose relied on a combination of gas sensors to do its job and separated out those with respiratory problems from among a group of 14 participants.

The researchers also compared three diagnostic techniques, including using the electric nose, a fraction of exhaled nitric oxide (also called FeNO) and lung function tests. Interestingly enough, the electric nose had the best results in correctly identifying asthmatics, especially when used in conjunction with FeNO.

What this Means for You

If you wonder what these findings really mean for you, they certainly offer hope that in the future technological advances in the electric nose may make it possible to identify illnesses quickly and easily at the earliest possible stage. By diagnosing health challenges such as asthma as soon as possible, it will enable patients to address them before they become an even larger problem.

That being said, more research is needed in this area. In the meantime, if you think you have asthma, it's important to see your doctor for a formal diagnosis. If you're asthma has already been identified, you should take your medications as prescribed and pay attention to your symptoms so you can respond accordingly to keep your condition under control.


Chemical Reviews

Chest: The Journal of the American College of Chest Physicians