April 22, 2021   |   Updated: June 23, 2021

What if we could be more aware of the allergens and pollutants that are irritants for those who suffer from asthma or other lung conditions? This is where technology, such as an electronic nose, might help.

“An electronic nose is a device composed of an array of electronic chemical sensors and an appropriate pattern recognition system,” explains IEEE Member Yangong Zheng. Zheng further explains how this type of technology works and interacts with its environment here. (Hint: it doesn’t actually look like a human nose.)

Electronic noses use sensors to identify a mixture of gases, also known as a breathprint. “The mixture of gases in air could react with the surfaces of the chemical sensors, causing a change in conductivity,” says Zheng. “The changes are then converted into electrical signals that create a specific response pattern for the mixture of gases.”

This technology has the ability to compare gases in the air to previously learned breathprints. Air pollution and pollen form different response patterns, so the nose will be able to identify the differences.

Can an Electronic Nose Detect Asthma?

“Human breath is made of plenty of volatile organic compounds (VOC) molecules and concentration,” says Zheng. “The mixture of VOCs provides the fundamental information on the physiologic and pathologic processes related to respiratory diseases. The patients with asthma have particular VOCs in their breath.

“Exhaled breath analysis via electronic noses has demonstrated a fairly good discriminative capacity, cross-validated accuracy is higher than 90% for differentiated patients affected by asthma,” says Zheng.

This means that an electronic nose is capable of detecting if someone suffers from asthma or another respiratory condition. Once the nose understands the breathprint, it can compare response patterns with different human breath.

Electronic noses are also capable of detecting other illnesses and chronic conditions through breathprint monitoring. An IEEE xplore article found that e-noses could be noninvasive diagnosis tools for monitoring chronic kidney disease and hemodialysis as well.

What is the Future of Electronic Noses?

Electronic noses are not available for purchase yet but research and technology are making great strides.

“Breath analysis by electronic nose is definitely complex and challenging, but the clinical applications are so pivotal in ensuring its development,” says Zheng. “Breath analysis supplies the information on metabolism and microbiome of patients, and it is an invasive procedure with limited costs –I am sure it will play a key clinical role in the future.”

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