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What is asthma?

Asthma is a disease that affects the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs. The airways of a person with asthma narrow and swell and can produce extra mucous, making breathing difficult.

Asthma attacks and episodes are serious problems with breathing caused by certain triggers. These triggers can be found in both indoor and outdoor environments. The most common outdoor triggers are pollen, exercise, pollution, particulate matter, diesel fuel and pesticides. Indoor triggers for asthma include mold, dust, secondhand smoke and pet dander.

What causes asthma?

A cause for asthma has not been specifically identified. Generally speaking, asthma is caused by a complex mix of genetic and environmental factors. These factors can vary for each person with asthma.

What are some examples of environmental pollutants that can trigger asthma attacks?

Air pollution can make asthma symptoms worse and trigger attacks. Two key air pollutants can affect asthma. One is ozone (found in smog). The other is particle pollution (found in haze, smoke, and dust). When ozone and particle pollution are in the air, adults and children with asthma are more likely to have difficulty breathing.

Ozone is often worst on hot summer days, especially in the afternoons and early evenings. Particle pollution can be bad any time of year, even in winter. It can be especially bad when the weather is calm without wind, allowing air pollution to build up.

Particle levels can also be high:

How can asthma be prevented?

Asthma is a chronic disease. It has no cure, but it can be controlled. Most problems with asthma, including hospitalization, can be prevented if asthma is managed according to established treatment guidelines. Effective management includes controlling exposure to asthma triggers, appropriate use of medications, ongoing monitoring of the disease, and patient education.

The most effective ways of preventing asthma at home are minimizing dust, cleaning up mold, and controlling pet dander.

If you have asthma, take steps to protect your health from air pollution:

What asthma data are included in Vermont’s Tracking program?

Vermont Tracking provides annual data about hospitalizations for asthma starting in 2000 and emergency department visits for asthma starting in 2003.

Hospitalizations are inpatient admissions of Vermont residents to hospitals in Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts. Emergency department visits are emergency room visits to Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Massachusetts hospitals by Vermont residents.

For both hospitalizations and emergency department visits, asthma data are available by number of cases, crude rate per 10,000 people, age-adjusted rate per 10,000 people, and gender. The gender choices are:

Vermont residents of all ages are included in the asthma data. The crude rate data for inpatient hospitalizations also offer age-category choices:

The total number of inpatient admissions for certain of these age categories is small. When numbers of cases are fewer than six, Vermont Tracking does not show exact counts. With fewer than six cases, it is almost impossible to tell random changes from true changes in the data. Reporting small numbers is also avoided to maintain confidentiality of individuals.

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