Dr. Smartphone: Better Health at Your Fingertips

While smartphones may get a bad rap for hooking us on games and facilitating excessive social media use, they also bring plenty of positives at your fingertips, especially when it comes to health and fitness. You can use smartphone apps to track your activity, get your heart rate, meditate, practice yoga, even manage diabetes. And that’s just for starters. Today’s apps are branching into novel – and often surprising – territories. Here’s a look at the latest health and well-being apps:

Environmental Health: If you have a favorite weather app, you may know that you can use it to find out which allergens are high or low in your area. But for more information about air pollution, which is important if you exercise outdoors or are sensitive to pollutants, apps like the EPA’s AIRNow and Plume Air Report can tell you if the air quality in your area is anywhere from good to hazardous. Other environmental apps allow you to track pollutants in other ways. For example, you can use the EPA’s How’s My Waterway app to find out about pollution in local waterways. You can also track your carbon footprint when you travel by air with the Carbon Emissions Calculator. While you’re at it, learn to drive more efficiently with the Green Gas Saver app (only available for iPhones). If you’re worried about toxins in everything from household products to food, use the GoodGuide app to identify the highest rated products on the market, or scan a product’s barcode to get product ratings while you shop.

Fertility Testing: Recently the fertility world was abuzz about an app being developed by a team of researchers at Harvard. The app, once available, will test men’s sperm count using a disposable microchip and cell phone attachment. In the female “trying-to-conceive” world, women can choose from apps such as Fertility Friend, Kindara, and OvaCue, to monitor their ovulation cycles and identify their fertile window.

Medical Diagnosis: Symptom Checkers that use keywords and algorithms have been around for a while, but newer diagnostic tools take full advantage of smartphone technology to offer enhanced services. For example, First Derm is designed to answer questions you have about your skin. For $29.99 to $59.99 you can take a photo of the problem, upload it and their doctors will review and get back to you. CliniCloud, which promises to “bring healthcare home,” is more than just an app: For $149, you get a digital stethoscope and non-contact thermometer. Create a health timeline for your family and share concerns with a physician when needed.

Emergency Help: The “emergency” tab alone is good reason to download the First Aid by American Red Cross app (iTriage is another option), covering everything from what to do for an asthma attack to how to treat burns, bites and stings, as well as accidental poisoning. Why do you need an app when you have Google? Because the content is preloaded, which means poor cellular service won’t be an issue in an emergency. The app also includes information on how to prepare for drought, earthquake, flooding, and more, and offers hospitals near your current location. Plus, there’s a pet version!