Asthma & Lung Disease

Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease in which the lungs become inflamed and airways narrow and react to "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.  People with uncontrolled asthma often have difficulty sleeping and breathing, may miss school and work, and often face costly medical bills due to hospitalizations and emergency department visits.  Asthma affects people of all ages, and most often starts during childhood.  

In Vermont about 67,000 people have asthma, and nearly 9,600 are children.  Fortunately, if a person with asthma gets an accurate diagnosis, learns to avoid asthma triggers, and takes medications as prescribed by a doctor, asthma can be controlled. People with asthma can live active, healthy lives.

To see how we are doing in Vermont, go to the Respiratory Disease Performance Scorecard.

Find Vermont data and reports on the Asthma Surveillance in Vermont page.  See also Tracking Asthma in Vermont on Health and the Environment.

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/or the first years of life, occupational exposures, or exposure to other common “asthma triggers,” may lead to asthma. There are many kinds of triggers, and triggers may be different for different people. In Vermont, common asthma triggers that may make asthma worse include pet dander, smoke and fumes from stoves and fireplaces, tobacco smoke, air pollution, pollen, mold, mildew, dust and/or cockroach droppings. For more information see "Asthma Facts for Individuals and Families." 

Vermont Asthma Action Plan

Everyone with asthma – especially children and teens – should have an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan. This is a written plan that you fill out with your or your child’s doctor to help control asthma and know what to do in emergencies.

Learn more about Asthma Action Plans

Download the Asthma Action Plan

Identify and Manage Asthma Triggers

When a person with asthma breathes air mixed with scented products or smoke from cigarettes or wood burning, their asthma may flare up and make it more difficult to breathe.  These are called asthma triggers.  Other things in the environment like pet dander, dust mites, extreme cold or humid air can be triggers making asthma symptoms worse.  Even exercise and strong emotions can trigger some people’s asthma.  Knowing one’s own triggers and eliminating them from the home, school and work environment, or avoiding them, can help keep asthma under control. Taking asthma medications as directed by the doctor, if needed, can also ensure asthma is kept managed.  For more information about common asthma triggers and easy steps to address them, see “Tackling Asthma Triggers."

Vermont Asthma Program Goals

The Health Department’s Asthma Program is working to reduce the burden of asthma among Vermonters, and aims to:

  • Increase asthma management and control
  • Decrease asthma hospitalizations and Emergency Department visits
  • Decrease asthma health care and economic costs, and
  • Decrease disparity in asthma burden across the state.

The Health Department’s Asthma Program works in partnership with a cross-section of partners and experts in lung health to promote policies and best practices that help Vermonters with asthma breathe easier.  Strategies include working to ensure guideline-based diagnosis and treatment of asthma patients and affordable and accessible asthma health care systems, and strengthening linkages and referrals to care especially for those Vermonters with the highest burden of asthma. The program promotes the adoption of asthma friendly practices that reduce environmental triggers and improve air quality in school, work and community settings.  At the center of the Vermont Asthma Program’s work is to help Vermonters know how to manage their own asthma by expanding asthma self-management education, through home visiting, and developing important tools such as the Asthma Action Plan, so individuals, families and caretakers know what to do in an emergency.


Vermont Asthma Program Goals
Smoking and Asthma
802Quits.org website

802Quits.org
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 802quits.org for more information.

More Asthma Information and Resources

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.

Pedipress.com
Offers publications about asthma for children and adults.

Healthy Schools
Schools can reduce asthma triggers by limiting chemicals and fragrances, such as found in disinfecting wipes used inside the school or on school grounds, that can trigger asthma and allergies, hurt student and teacher performance, and result in missed school days. Learn more about what schools can do.

Vermont Department of Health Environmental Resources
Wood Heating and Indoor Air Quality Fact Sheet
Mold and Mildew 

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. 

Everyone with asthma – especially children and teens – should have an up-to-date Asthma Action Plan. This is a written plan that you fill out with your child and your child’s doctor to help control asthma and know what to do in emergencies.

We work with several 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/or workdays.

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.