Asthma & Lung Disease

Woman using an inhaler

Asthma affects people of all ages, but most often starts during childhood. In Vermont, about 67,000 people are known to have asthma. Of those, nearly 13,000 are children.

Often people with poorly managed or severe asthma may have difficulty sleeping and breathing. But if a person with asthma gets an accurate diagnosis, learns to avoid asthma attack triggers, and takes medications appropriately under regular doctor supervision, asthma can be controlled. People with asthma can live active, healthy lives.

To see how many people who are living with asthma have the education and care they need to manage their condition and avoid hospitalization: Respiratory Disease Performance Scorecard

Find Vermont data and reports on the Asthma Surveillance in Vermont page.

What is asthma?

Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease in which the lungs become inflamed and airways narrow and react to "triggers."

There are many kinds of triggers, and triggers may be different for different people. Pet dander, tobacco smoke, air pollution, pollens, mold, mildew and dust are common triggers. When the lungs become irritated, the airways swell and mucus builds up, causing shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, chest pain or tightness, tiredness or a combination of these symptoms.

Often people with poorly managed or severe asthma may have difficulty sleeping and breathing. However, if people with asthma receive an accurate diagnosis, learn and avoid what triggers an attack, and take their medications appropriately under regular doctor supervision, their asthma can be controlled. People with asthma can live active, healthy lives.

What causes asthma?

It is not clearly known why or how people develop asthma. Research suggests that a combination of family genes and environmental exposures produce asthma.

Asthma can begin in early childhood or may first appear later in life. Not all childhood asthma continues into adulthood.

Family history of asthma, respiratory infections in young children, exposure to tobacco smoke during pregnancy and the first years of life, occupational exposures, house dust mites, air pollution, or cockroach droppings are a few of the things that may lead to asthma.

How can asthma be managed?

Asthma is a very individual condition, but often it takes a team approach to manage it well. Some forms of asthma are more difficult to manage than others. Most people who have asthma can learn how to get it under control. But getting asthma under control doesn't just happen. It takes effort to learn what triggers a person's asthma, and requires persistence in following the given treatment plan.

Managing asthma well is the responsibility of the person who has it, as well as their family, school and workplace, and by community-based sources of air pollution. Good asthma management is a team affair, which benefits from a strong relationship between the patient and his or her physician and, when a child is involved, with the school nurse. The asthma team works together by communicating regularly to solve problems, review the medications, and check the effectiveness of the asthma management plan.

Vermont Asthma Action Plan

One of the best ways to ensure asthma control is to have a written management plan. Use the Vermont Asthma Action Plan or similar template.

Call your doctor and ask for a Vermont Asthma Action Plan. This is a written plan that you develop with your doctor to help control your asthma. The asthma action plan shows your daily treatment, such as what kind of medicines to take and when to take them. Your plan describes how to control asthma long term and how to handle worsening asthma, or attacks. The plan explains when to call the doctor or go to the emergency room.

If your child has asthma, all of the people who care for him or her should know about the child's asthma action plan. These caregivers include babysitters and workers at child care centers, schools and camps. These caretakers can help your child follow his or her action plan. While asthma doesn’t have a cure, it is manageable.

More asthma resources and Information sources

Allergy and Asthma Network – Mothers of Asthmatics, Inc.
Wide-ranging information on a variety of topics of concern to people who have asthma, or parents of children with asthma. 

American Lung Association
Provides comprehensive information about lung disease and respiratory conditions including research findings, management tips and advocacy connections.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Education, advocacy, support and research

Asthma A to Z 
Latest news and current research from MEDLINE Plus.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention  
Includes data on asthma, effective interventions, definition of policy issues, and resources for consumers and health professionals.

Environmental Protection Agency
Learn about the environmental contributions to asthma and what can be done to reduce exposure to asthma triggers at home, school and work, and to outdoor air pollutants. 

Kids Health
Information about asthma for parents, kids and teens.
Offers publications about asthma for children and adults.

Smoking and Asthma website
You can quit. We can help.

Living in a smoke-free environment is an important part of managing asthma, and for your overall health and the health of your children. There is no safe exposure to tobacco smoke, especially for children.

When you decide to quit or are interested in learning more, these free services can help you find success. Best of all, through 802Quits you can access a coach and get free nicotine replacement – gum, patches or lozenges – shipped right to your door (while supplies last). Visit for more information.

In This Section

Asthma treatment for a child or an adult will depend on the severity of their disease. The goal of treatment is to control the disease and prevent asthma attacks. An individualized asthma action plan is critical. 

We work with a number of state health partners to improve asthma self-management among Vermonters. Good self-management means higher quality of life, better sleep, and fewer missed school and work days.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is a large group of lung diseases characterized by airflow obstruction. COPD is often associated with symptoms related to difficulty breathing, but can be present without symptoms.