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#BritainBreathing: A New Citizen Science App to Track Allergies

Britain Breathing logo

We’re excited to announce the launch of #BritainBreathing, our new citizen science app about seasonal allergies.  We caught up with Sheena Cruickshank, BSI trustee and one of the lead scientists working on the project from The University of Manchester, to find out more…

Can you tell us a bit more about #BritainBreathing?

#BritainBreathing is the new free citizen science app to allow us to investigate the effects that seasonal allergies, such as hay fever or asthma, are having on the people of Britain.  The app will allow people to record and monitor their own allergy symptoms while also contributing to a large open data set that the project team will use to answer some of the key unknown questions about seasonal allergies.  It’s a joint project between the British Society for Immunology, the Royal Society of Biology and The University of Manchester.

Why did you decide to work on this subject in particular?

There are two factors behind this.  Firstly, seasonal allergies are a fascinating scientific area with lots of unanswered questions. We all know the incidence of seasonal allergies has been increasing over recent years but we still don’t know why this is. The #BritainBreathing project gives us the perfect opportunity to generate a large nationwide dataset of allergy symptoms so we can hopefully increase our understanding in this area.

Workshop participants discuss app design

Workshop participants discuss app design

Secondly, we really wanted to develop a project where we could work in partnership with the public to generate data.  With one in four people in the UK suffering from seasonal allergies, it’s a topic that everyone can relate to.  We all either have a seasonal allergy ourselves or know someone who does.  We have tried to include the public at all stages of the project. As part of the development, we ran some initial workshops with people who have allergies to gauge interest and inform the app design – these findings have really driven how we’ve developed the app and hopefully mean that we have reward mechanisms in place to incentivise people to continue inputting their symptoms on an ongoing basis.

So, how does the app work?

The #BritainBreathing app is free to download on Android.  It allows people to record their allergy symptoms in a simple and straightforward way, measuring how allergies are affecting their eyes, nose and breathing on a sliding scale. This data is then anonymously shared with the research team, along with information on time and approximate location.  This will create a large open data set which we can then combine with other publicly available data such as weather, pollen or pollution statistics, to try to increase our understanding of when allergy symptoms are occurring and what the trigger might be.

What would you say if someone asks why they should download the #BritainBreathing app?

It’s a great opportunity to get involved in scientific research on allergies and directly contribute to increasing our understanding of when and why seasonal allergies occurs.  We’ll be regularly updating users with the progress that we’ve made via our website and news alerts so you’ll be able to find out the latest news from the project team.

The app also has a built in tracker that allows people to monitor their own symptoms over the time.  This is a great way to find out and record how allergies are affecting you from day to day.

Finally, we hope that the app will also raise public awareness and understanding of allergies and provide people with the opportunity to learn more about how and why allergies occur.

What next?

a Britain Breathing app

Now, we want to encourage as many people as possible to download the app and use it.  Over the summer, the #BritainBreathing team will be attending a number of events and festivals to raise the profile of the app and to engage with people about the science of allergies.

Once the data starts coming in, we will create an interactive map on our website to visualise allergy symptoms across the country.  This will provide a great resource for users to compare their experience of allergies to others in their region and beyond.  We also want to raise funds to be able to launch the #BritainBreathing app on iOS too – we want as many people as possible to be able to access it.

Once the app is established, we will start to analyse the data and hopefully be able to show how effective it can be to use ‘people power’ to answer difficult research questions.

You can find out more about the #BritainBreathing project at britainbreathing.org and download the app from Google Play. #BritainBreathing is a collaboration between the British Society for Immunology, Royal Society of Biology and The University of Manchester.