Doctors typically use peak flow meters and spirometers to pick medications to reduce the airway inflammation associated with asthma. These tools, however, do not measure inflammation directly.
"Because of that, physicians are often having to guess what's the best medicine for them to use for their patients," said Dr. Kathy Rickard, chief medical officer of the medical device manufacturer Aerocrine.
Aerocrine's Niox Mino device, though, measures nitrous oxide, a direct indication of airway inflammation.
To use the device, patients blow a long, slow breath over its mouthpiece. Children can watch an animation of a floating balloon that shows them how to breathe.
In 90 seconds, the device displays a number that corresponds to guidelines that show when and how much inhaled corticosteriod a patient needs.
Many patients who think they have asthma actually have allergy airway symptoms, Rickard said. The Niox Mino can confirm if that's the case.
"More importantly, those patients who don't have asthma are on asthma medications they don't need," Rickard said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the device for use four years ago, and Aerocrine said that all pharmaceutical companies use it in clinical trials.