Could a breath-monitoring headset improve your health?

Wearable technology and quantified self fans already strap gadgets to all different parts of their bodies to keep tabs on their activity levels, calories burned, heart rates and more. But a Walnut Creek, Calif. company believes health-conscious consumers should be paying attention to another biometric pattern: breathing.

BreathResearch2Since 2008, BreathResearch has been working on research and technology that analyzes “breath acoustics” (or the quality of a person’s breathing) to help reduce stress, optimize athletic performance, lose weight and improve sleep. Earlier this month, as part of a health innovation challenge backed by electronics giant Philips and Indiegogo, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign for a new breath-monitoring smartphone headset. So far, it’s raised more than half of its $30,000 goal.

BreathResearch founder and CEO Nirinjan Yee said that, as a trained holistic medicine practitioner, she spends a good amount of time working with patients with conditions like chronic pain and hypertension.

“In the medical environment, and even in the alternative medical and fitness worlds, we’re looking at a lot of stuff, like blood work, diet and exercise, but no one was looking at breathing,” she said. “What I found in all the patients that I work with is that their breathing really seems compromised.”

Analyzing ‘breath acoustics’

Over the past nearly 10 years, Yee said, she and her team have collected more than 10,000 recordings of breathing patterns and have catalogued and analyzed the various sounds. They’ve listened to whether breathing is fast or slow, deep or shallow, choppy or smooth, filled with wheezing or clear, and then have translated the data into numerical values that contribute to a “breathing index.”

MyBreathThe company has already released a mobile app, called MyBreath, that measures and tracks breathing using a regular headset, and is part of Aetna’s (s AET) CarePass mobile health platform. But the goal of the company’s new headset is to provide even more comprehensive and accurate breathing analysis.

Combined with a mobile app, the headset listens to a user’s breathing, analyzes the patterns, generates a breathing score and provides recommendations on how to improve breathing. But the system also uses other sensors to pick up a person’s heart rate, oxygen saturation and other data to calculate the metabolic levels that are optimal for weight loss, cardiovascular training and other physical goals.

Breath analysis may detect stress, infections

Sensor-based breath monitoring is relatively new, but recent studies suggest that breath analysis can be used to detect stress levels, bacterial infections and other conditions. More research also suggests that some breathing exercises may help alleviate stress, reduce the symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), relieve asthma and help with other conditions.

Another startup, Spire, which was admitted to Rock Health’s startup accelerator earlier this summer, is also working on a wearable sensor that tracks breathing, although it hasn’t disclosed too much yet. Cofounded by the director of Stanford’s Calming Technology Lab, the company’s sensor reportedly clips onto a user’s clothing and relays data to a mobile app to help users breathe more calmly, reduce stress and become more aware about asthma- and sleep apnea-related breathing patterns.

To date, BreathResearch has been supported by “friends and family” funding, Yee said. Assuming its crowdfunding campaign is successful, the company plans to start delivering its headsets next October.