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Researchers identify “violent” physical processes that cause wheezing

A team of engineers have identified the “violent” physical processes that work inside the lungs that cause wheezing. This is a condition that affects up to a quarter of the world’s population.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have used modeling and high-speed video technology to show the causes of wheezing and how to predict it. These results can be used as the basis for a cheaper and faster diagnosis of lung disease that requires only a stethoscope and a microphone.

A better understanding of the physical mechanisms involved in the development of wheezing may improve the causal relationship between symptoms and illness, which may help improve diagnosis and treatment.Results will be reported to the journal Royal Society Open Science..

At some point, most of us experienced wheezing, a high-pitched whistling sound during breathing. For most people, this phenomenon is temporary and usually causes a cold or a mild allergic reaction. However, regular or chronic wheezing is often a symptom of a more serious condition, such as asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or certain cancers.

Wheezing makes breathing difficult and puts a lot of pressure on the lungs. Sounds associated with wheezing have been used for diagnosis for centuries, but the physical mechanisms responsible for the onset of wheezing are not well understood and are models that predict when wheezing will occur. there is no. “

Dr. Alastair Gregory, First Research Author, Faculty of Engineering, Cambridge University

Co-author Dr. Anurag Agarwal, head of the Acoustics Laboratory at the Faculty of Engineering, said he first came up with the idea of ​​studying wheezing after spending a family vacation a few years ago. “I started wheezing the first night we were there.” And as an engineer studying acoustics, my first thought was that my body was making these noises. It was just how cool it was, but a few days later I had a really hard time breathing and the novelty quickly disappeared. “

Agarwal’s wheezing may be due to a tick allergy that can be easily treated with over-the-counter antihistamines. However, when I talked to my neighbor, who is also a pulmonologist, I found that, as is often the case, the physical mechanism that causes wheezing is a little strange.

“Wheezing is associated with so many symptoms that it is difficult to identify what is wrong with a patient by wheezing alone. Therefore, to make the diagnosis more specific, how wheezing is. We are working on understanding what will be generated, “said Agarwal.

The airways of the lungs are a bifurcated network of flexible tubes called the bronchioles, which gradually shorten and narrow as they go deeper into the lungs.

To mimic this setting in the lab, researchers modified a device called a Sterling resistor. In this device, the air flow is driven through thin elastic tubing of various lengths and thicknesses.

Professor Joan Lasenby, co-author and computer vision specialist, has developed a multi-camera stereoscopic technique that captures the air being pushed into a tube at various tensions to observe the physical mechanisms responsible for wheezing.

“I was amazed at how intense the wheezing mechanism was,” said Gregory, a junior research fellow at Magdalen College. “We found that there are two conditions for wheezing. One is the pressure on the tube so that one or more bronchioles almost collapse, and the other is sufficient for the collapsed airway. The air is pushed in by the force. The vibration of the drive. “

When these conditions are met, the vibrations increase and the front-to-back wave is maintained by a flutter mechanism that has the same frequency as the opening and closing of the tube. “A similar phenomenon was seen when an aircraft wing broke down or when a bridge collapsed,” said Agarwal. “If the up and down vibrations have the same frequency as the clockwise and counterclockwise torsional vibrations, there will be flutters that will cause the structure to collapse. The same process is functioning within the respiratory system.”

Using these observations, researchers use the “tube law” to predict when this potentially damaging vibration will occur, depending on the material properties, shape, and amount of tension in the tube. Was developed.

“Then we use this law to build a model that can predict the onset of wheezing and can even be the basis for a cheaper and faster diagnosis of lung disease,” Gregory said. “Instead of expensive and time-consuming methods like X-rays and MRI, you don’t need anything but a microphone and a stethoscope.”

Diagnosis based on this method works by using a microphone-early testing was done using the built-in microphone of a normal smartphone-recording the frequency of wheezing and using this Which bronchioles are close to collapse, and the airways are abnormally hard or flexible to be treated. Researchers still need more work in this area by finding changes in material properties due to wheezing and where wheezing occurs, but hope that additional information will help distinguish between different conditions. ..


Journal reference:

Gregory, A. , et al.. (2021) Experimental study to model lung wheezing. Royal Society Open Science..

Researchers identify “violent” physical processes that cause wheezing

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