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Children with cystic fibrosis (CF) face a life-long battle against sticky mucus that can clog their lungs and make breathing difficult. For parents, getting their children to follow a daily routine that includes breathing exercises to help clear the lungs can also be a battle. But work being done by students and researchers at Champlain College in Vermont may turn this daily grind into a game kids will want to play.
Cystic fibrosis is an inherited condition passed from parents to children. In most cases, the parents do not know they are carriers for the condition until their child is diagnosed. CF changes the consistency of the mucus normally produced in the body by the respiratory system. Rather than being watery and slippery, the mucus is sticky and thick. So instead of protecting the airways by filtering pollen and other particles from the air we breathe, thick mucus can build up in the lungs and clog the airways making it difficult to breathe and creating an environment where infections can grow.
People who have cystic fibrosis need to cough up the thick mucus to keep it from blocking their airways. One common treatment for CF is chest physical therapy, also called clapping or percussion. Pounding on the chest and back, either with cupped hands or using a mechanical aid or special vest, can help loosen mucus and break up clumps so they can be coughed up.
Special breathing exercises called “huffing” can also help clear mucus from the airways. But the researchers in Vermont noted that children often refuse to do the exercises, claiming they would rather play video games. The research team chose to take advantage of the children’s preference by turning the breathing exercises into a video game. The team designed software that forces players to breathe certain ways to play the game. The controller for the game is a digital spirometer, a tool used to measure how much and how fast air is moved out of the lungs on each breath.
Students at Champlain College in Vermont helped create one of the games in which players drive a race car, fill up with gas, and wash the car by performing breathing techniques.