By Brian Blum
A biomedical engineering graduate in Israel began to wonder if she could engineer her own way out of panic attacks by building a medical device that could provide calming relief.
Together with her mother, Adi Wallach founded a company that sells CalmiGo, a handheld device that looks like an asthma inhaler and sells for $179.
The panic-relieving technology developed by their company, Dendro Technologies, engages vision, touch and smell to reduce stress.
CalmiGo comes at a time of heightened anxiety for many, given the pandemic. Launched in 2019, it has sold 20,000 units on Amazon, on the CalmiGo website and via third parties, such as the FSA store.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is buying CalmiGo devices to distribute for free to veterans, and the IRS has approved CalmiGo as a health-related expense, making it tax-deductible in the United States.
Wallach started experiencing panic attacks while pursuing her undergraduate degree at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology and decided to do something about it.
“I was at the movies with friends the first time it happened,” Wallach said. “I felt my heart starting to race. Then I didn’t feel my legs.”
She headed home and climbed into bed, hoping she’d feel better in the morning, but she woke with the same symptoms. At that point, she was “afraid I was going to lose my sanity” and even drove to her mother’s house “to say goodbye.”
Her mother, Dr. Orna Levin, recognized what was going on and explained to Wallach that she was having a panic attack. However, her daughter’s episodes did not subside despite the new knowledge.
“Sometimes I had six to seven panic attacks a day,” Wallach said.
Wallach tried every solution short of medication: therapy, yoga, biofeedback.
“I changed my diet, started taking supplements, tried acupuncture,” she said. “They were somewhat effective, but I was not able to use them fast enough to stop the attacks. I started avoiding places that might trigger an attack. I didn’t go to the movies for years. I stopped swimming. I was afraid of flying.”
How it works
CalmiGo first and foremost helps regulate breathing, but not in a way that requires cognitive effort. That’s important because popular breathing techniques require concentration while counting. The problem with counting is that it “activates the sympathetic nervous system at a time when you want to quiet it,” said Wallach.
The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the body’s flight-or-fight response. In contrast, “we activate the parasympathetic nervous system in the brain, which is responsible for the relaxation response in the body,” Wallach said.
A series of three blinking lights on the CalmiGo device guides users’ exhalations. When the third light comes on, users breathe in again without having to think or count.
The device has a learning mechanism that tracks breathing patterns and adjusts itself to gradually slow users’ exhalations over the three-minute recommended period of use, Wallach said. Three minutes three times a day works best, she said.
CalmiGo has an optional function that vibrates the device when users have finished exhaling. That addresses another sense — touch — in much the same way that the flashing lights engage vision. The third sense that is activated is smell. Every CalmiGo unit is shipped with lavender, peppermint or bergamot “scent panels” that snap onto the device.
“We embed aromatherapy oil onto a solid element, so there are no liquids to worry about,” Wallach said, adding that each panel lasts three to six weeks.
Wallach insisted that CalmiGo be small enough to fit into a purse or pocket and be easy to use.
“Even a hi-tech person can’t use a sophisticated tool during a panic attack,” she said. “We needed it to be simple and effective in just a few minutes.”
Activating the parasympathetic system for relaxation is not unique to CalmiGo. Yoga and meditation do much of the same.
“But CalmiGo provides immediate relief, which is harder to do,” Wallach said. “Yoga is great for the long term. But most people are not able to integrate something like that into their daily routine. CalmiGo takes just a few minutes, and you don’t need a specific environment or a quiet room. You can use it on a subway or on an airplane.”
Wallach said she has used the device to help with her fears while flying but stressed that CalmiGo is “not a medical device.”
The device’s components are sourced from China and assembled in the United States, where most of the company’s sales have been so far.
Dendro Technologies has raised $3 million from angels and several smaller venture capitalists, including Israeli Alon Matas, whose Silicon Valley-based online therapy startup Better Help reports a boost in interest as a result of Covid-19-fueled anxiety.
Relieving exam anxiety and PTSD
CalmiGo has been extensively tested.
One study was done at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a private research college, with students who suffer from exam anxiety. A control group used standard breathing techniques, while the other group received CalmiGo. The latter showed significantly more improvement. The results are to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.
Another study looked at veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“We found a significant decrease in both PTSD and anxiety after just two weeks of use,” Wallach said.
A third study is being conducted in the oncology department at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in Israel. It is following health professionals who suffer from burnout and cancer patients with a high degree of stress.
A clinical study is underway in the emergency department at Northwell Health in New York City. The results are expected by the end of 2021.
Some 40 percent of adults age 18 and older in the U.S. are showing signs of anxiety and depression since the start of the pandemic last year, which Wallach sees as a positive in some ways.
“Everything related to mental health is more out in the open. Even the business magazines are now talking about mental health,” she said.
One of Wallach’s most poignant success stories comes from the mother of a child with Tourette syndrome.
“Covid really triggered him, but his mother didn’t want to put him on any more medication. They bought CalmiGo and it helped a lot,” she said. “The mother wrote to me, ‘I got my boy back.’ This meant everything to me.”
Wallach relocated to New York last year to focus on the company’s sales and marketing. Her mother heads research and development, which is done in Israel. Wallach is the company’s CEO, while Levin, who focuses on herbal medicine, acupuncture and nutrition in her medical practice, is Dendro’s president.
While Wallach never expected to be in the medical devices business, CalmiGo has become not only her passion, but also a business she hopes will be transformative for people navigating a stressful modern age — even after the pandemic.
“My last panic attack was over three years ago, and I was able to stop it in less than two minutes by using CalmiGo,” she said.
New Handheld Device Aims To Calm Panic Attacks Fast appeared first on ISRAEL21c.
(Edited by Carlin Becker and David Martosko)
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