Virtual pet game helps kids manage asthma

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects
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Nine-year-old Allison Wu is an avid gymnast, but sometimes her asthma can make her body feel off balance.

"Normally I start to cough a lot, and sometimes it bothers my throat, and when it, like, really bothers me, I start to wheeze," Allison said.

A new video game, called Wellapets, uses virtual pets to help kids with asthma understand and manage it.

"I am going to give my pet, um, the inhaler," Allison said.

A lovable fire-breathing dragon becomes the child's pet.  The only way to help him blow fire is to properly manage his asthma.

"I learned about that, like, cockroaches and smoke are not good," Allison said.

As a mom and pediatrician, this is one video game Allison's mom, Ann Wu, wants her to play.

"She's learning how to take ownership of her own illness and not needing me for everything," said Ann.

The game also teaches children about asthma triggers—like smog and reminds children how and when to use their medication properly.

"Taking your inhaler with the right technique. Taking your controller inhaler at the right time. Learning how to avoid triggers and learning how to recognize your own asthma symptoms and take action for those," explained Alexander Ryu, Wellapets Co-Founder and CEO.

Even those who don't have asthma are enjoying the game and better understand what their siblings and friends go through.

It's a free app and can be downloaded at Google Play and the Apple Store. Lifeguard Games, the developer of Wellapets, say they plan to roll out a host of games to help manage food  allergies, diabetes and other health issues.

Additional Information:

More than 25 million people in the United States have asthma. About 7 million of these people are children. Asthma is a disease that inflames and narrows the airways of the lungs. It can cause reoccurring periods of wheezing that is similar to a whistling sound when you breathe. It can cause chest tightness, shortness of breath and coughing. The coughing often occurs at night or early in the morning. The disease usually starts in childhood, but affects people of all ages. (Source:

SIGNS/SYMPTOMS: The exact cause of Asthma is not known. Researchers think some genetics and environmental factors interact and cause asthma early in life. There's one theory called the hygiene hypothesis. The researchers, who back this theory, think the current emphasis on hygiene and sanitation has resulted in changes in living conditions and decline in infections. They think this affects the way young children's immune systems develop during very early childhood and it may increase the risk for atopy and asthma...especially for children who have close family members with one or both of these conditions.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Boston-based LifeGuard Games is gearing up to launch a mobile game to teach children to manage their asthma. Wellapets, launched March 5, follows the mold of recently popular virtual pet games, but with an extra element of chronic disease management. The free app (currently for iOS and Android) can be downloaded at the Apple Store or Google Play.  It teaches and motivates asthmatic kids ages 6-11 in the United States not only to manage asthma, but help them cope with the stigma by providing a fun, normalizing virtual companion. According to LifeGuard company that created this application, playing this game can make kids healthier. The company has been working with Boston Children's Hospital to test the game on children with asthma. They plan to do more efficacy testing after the game has been out a year or so. Studies show that their games can help kids manage their cancer treatments, help kids with diabetes dramatically reduce urgent care visits, increase medication adherence and improve self-efficacy and communication with parents. For more information on this app, visit (Source:

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