Young, Sick and Invisible

My illness has shaped me,
But it does not define me.

Weather Flare Interview



1) Who are you? Give as much or as little information as you feel comfortable with.


Hello, my name is Dave I am the founder of Weather Flare.


2) What Chronic illness/illness’s is it you have? With a brief description on what it is/what they are.


I mainly suffer from palindromic arthritis. It is a rare form of arthritis that causes attacks of flareups to the joints and inflammation that comes and goes. There is no lasting joint damage, since my joints look and feel normal between the attacks, but when I do have a flare up, the joints and tendons around the area look red and swollen and kind of get tender and hot to touch.


The main the issue I have with this condition is the length of the attacks and the frequency of the attacks come and go whenever they feel like, without warning. This mainly disrupts my sleeping where I have a flare at night, keeping me up and in pain. By the morning I’m a fatigued zombie!


3) What made you design an app to help those who’s illnesses are affected by the weather?


Two reasons really, one out of necessity as I was and always struggled working a “9-5”, so I had to have a tough conversation with myself. I was happy working in a school with kids with special needs as I enjoy having to take problems and making them adaptable or bite sized to suit each child's learning needs. I feel that is a strength of mine or it could be the fact I like making a mess and to have fun with learning. So, I basically adapt what everyone does to make it work and understandable for them. With my condition worsening, and me not performing at my best I had to make the decision to leave work.


The second part was during a flare. I woke up it was stuffy, grey, low cloud and warm. Yuck! I was so swollen and fatigued, I was like this always happens when the weather is like this. Then I thought back to my late grandma and she could always predict a storm coming from a headache, and she was spot on! Also, the feeling of aches and pains when it’s colder, talk of this from friends and family when they are sore, stiff or creaky at a certain time of year. I just thought this is something we all know about, so I Googled weather and pain/ flare conditions, and I was really surprised at the lack of and if not any knowledge of this subject. This was surprising because Hippocrates had a theory 2500 years ago that people took this as fact. I began thinking “has this been proven?” How could I prove this or disprove this? This led me into looking at current weather apps and the information they display.


Most apps mainly focus on the weather as in, rain, wind, sun etc to sign post whether you need a coat or an umbrella. Some also displayed the barometric pressure / UV / pollen and air quality but these I felt where buried in the app and not at the forefront. I thought even if I created an app that was showing the weather in a way that made information about the air quality more visible, then this would be beneficial for people who say have asthma.


As someone with a long-term health condition, I decided I had to go back to square one with health; what works, what doesn’t, what’s too much, too little, just putting the jigsaw pieces in place. Doctors where asking me to keep a diary of flare ups, I hunted and found a clunky app to do this as like everyone I am glued to my phone. That’s when I had the lightbulb moment. If we combine the weather data, with the inputs of people with long term health conditions than I feel we have a good chance of answering this theory.


My only concern was that it was a bit pie in the sky to have this thought - to have been the first to think of this idea. Luckily in October 2019, the University of Manchester released a report from their study on MSK patients in the UK called Cloudy With a Chance of Pain which found in certain weather conditions the weather did influence pain. This really spurred me on, and I wanted to find out if this is the case for other people and their conditions, and from all over the world.

4) How does the app work/help?


The app can help in a few ways.


Firstly, it’s a clear way of finding out what the weather has in store and how it could affect someone’s day. Along with a big icon showing the weather at the time and being able to see the weather per hour / day / week, we display potential triggers on the front of the app. We colour code these using the traffic light system, where it’s red for a bad day, yellow for a bearable day and green for a good day.


We don’t ever want to discourage someone from doing something because of the weather but give insight to what could be affecting their condition. For example, are my elbow joints hurting due to the weather or a deterioration in that condition and what common sense approaches can I take to aid myself? We also give tips on what to do to help ease you through the day. Simple things like remember a brolly (easily forgotten due to brain fog) through to setting the heating on overnight as it will drop to zero degrees, or today’s UV is high remember to wear sunscreen and increase fluid intake. Little things we feel can add up to make a real difference.


5) Can you explain the key features of the app?


So the main parts of the app at this stage will be a dedicated personal profile which includes:


Weather Display


This is where you put in your condition and any medications you are taking. Since some medicines having reactions to the weather its important to be prepared and avoid flare ups. For example methotrexate, a drug for the treatment of arthritis requires you to avoid direct sunlight for an extended period. The app uses this information and displays it on the main page. We show you what you need to know, with regards to upcoming weather changes that may affect your condition.


Tracking


The app includes a traffic light system, so the user can track when they experience a flare condition by selecting the area effected and rating the level of discomfort. Tracking swollen joints, pain, fatigue and so on will help build a personalised profile for the user and record their relationship with the weather and what triggers they may experience. This then helps us predict the conditions before they occur and informs the user of what steps they can take with a friendly common-sense approach. Like “It’s going to be a windy day. Soothe achy joints with a hot bath and a heat pack.” Or “Try to get out for some fresh air and sunshine if you can!”.


Route Planner


This is most important for me. Sometimes, I go to travel and the weather constantly changes throughout the journey. The app enables users to plan their journey by entering their starting point and their destination. The planner will update in real time using the phones GPS to identify their location. As the user travels the app updates the weather condition so the user can plan ahead and know when the weather will change in real time.


Breathe


We can all get overwhelmed, whether it's the weather and you had plans or something else on your mind, it's always good to take time to pause and breathe. The breathe section runs from the storm to the calm.

6) What do you hope to achieve with Weather Flare?


I hope that we can have an app that can make days at least 1% better for someone suffering with chronic pain. From personal experience this will be part of a tool kit to help them through the day or most importantly help them make plans when their symptoms are not as bad. It's important to know if pain or a flare up is due to the weather and how to deal with it. If you don't even have a diagnosis yet and just seem to have a creaking knee or want to know if a migraine, for example, is trigged by the weather, this app will help in answering those questions.


7) Why should people use this app?


People should try the app to see if it helps with their day to day lives. If we gather data, we can answer questions about up and coming weather. The app can help users ahead to choose the best time to meet up with their friend or attend a meeting among a thousand other things on their to do list, so the weather is one less thing to worry about. These are just some things that I think will really help others as it’s something that would really help me and my condition.


8) What sets this app apart from other weather apps?


What sets us apart? Well apart from helping to answer a 2500-year question, I think the app looks better than the clinical / boring / cluttered weather apps. It currently uses an API by Accuweather, so it has all the minute by minute information that a traditional weather app uses and is available all over the world.


Also, Weather Flare provides notifications that seem to be missing from tradition weather apps and these are customisable too. I get a severe storm warning from tradition weather apps, but what about if there is high pollen day or if you moved into a place with a change in air quality. I believe the weather information is amazing, but I feel it affects people more than just a case of its raining or not and the information needs to be presented in a way that's easily understood and means something to the user.


We are also launching a crowdfunding campaign for an Alexa skill, so if someone can’t access the app maybe because of swollen hands or fingers or has limited vision, they can access the weather and still track their symptoms by speaking. There will also be a smart watch app to help people on the go.


9) How would you describe this app to those who aren’t affected by the weather?


Whoa! Hang on a minute we haven’t proven that yet :) People will still need an umbrella. If we gain enough information, then we will be able to predict what weather effects people’s health and what this will look like in the future, so we could show people and governing bodies etc, what people's health look like in (x) amount of years if we have a two degree increase with our climate.


Even if you are healthy you may want to keep an eye out on the best day and time to exercise outdoors or if you’ve had an injury or operation, you can track why flare ups occur that day, or question why the area from a broken bone causes pain when it’s grey outside.


10) Any exciting updates coming soon?


Yes! We are launching a crowdfunding campaign to make this into an app everyone can use. We will create a personal dashboard you can login into and see how the weather affects you on a personal level. This may also be helpful when going for a diagnosis or to help inform medical professionals how the weather has made an impact on your symptoms. There’s also the chance to have some cool merch too. The campaign goes live on the 6th October to the 10th November and can be found here: https://www.weatherflare.org/crowdfunding


11) What is your hope for the future?


My hope for the future is to help as many people be in control whatever the weather throws at them. To help develop better technologies or a more localised scale to improve weather data and to build up a system of every condition and see how the weather will impact on our health.


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Until next time,



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