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An electronic nose (e-nose) may help clinicians diagnose asthma sooner by detecting telltale chemicals in exhaled breath. Currently, an asthma diagnosis rests on the patient's signs and symptoms and results of pulmonary function tests. But various other pulmonary conditions can yield similar results, potentially delaying diagnosis and treatment.

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To use the device, patients breathe into a face mask connected to the e-nose that contains a vapor sensor similar to those used in the food, wine, and perfume industries. The e-nose analyzes each patient's unique "smell print" to detect changes consistent with asthma. In a study, it reliably distinguished people with mild and severe asthma from those without any pulmonary disorders. The device was less successful at distinguishing mild asthma from severe asthma.


Researchers presented their findings at the American Thoracic Society 2007 International Conference this spring.