Asthma is a disease that affects the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs. For people with asthma, the inside of the airways can become irritated and inflamed. Asthma symptoms can come and go quickly, and often occur in response to exposure to specific triggers. Exposure to irritants like tobacco smoke and outdoor air pollutants, or to allergens, can trigger asthma attacks.
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- What is asthma?
Asthma is a disease that affects the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs. For people with asthma, the inside of the airways can become irritated and inflamed. Asthma symptoms can come and go quickly, and often occur in response to exposure to specific triggers.
The most common asthma triggers are:
Outdoors: pollen, exercise, pollution, particulate matter, diesel fuel, and pesticides. Two key air pollutants are ozone (found in smog) and particulate matter (found in haze, smoke, and dust). When ozone and particulate matter are in the air, adults and children with asthma are more likely to have symptoms.
Indoors: mold, dust, secondhand smoke, and pet dander.
- What is an asthma attack?
An asthma attack is a health event that makes breathing very difficult. When someone has an asthma attack, it is hard to get enough air into and out of the lungs. The person may cough or wheeze, and the chest feels tight. This effect is caused by exposure to various asthma triggers. The most common asthma triggers outdoors are pollen, exercise, pollution, ozone, particulate matter, diesel fuel, and pesticides. Indoor triggers for asthma include mold, dust, secondhand smoke, and pet dander.
- What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of asthma include coughing a lot, especially at night, and breathing problems that are worse after physical activity or during a particular time of year. Other symptoms are chest tightness, wheezing, and colds that last more than 10 days.
- What are the causes of asthma?
While the root causes of asthma are hard to define, specific exposures are known to cause breathing problems for people with asthma. Besides exposure to triggers such as allergens and irritants, exercise can lead to asthma symptoms. Getting a cold and being stressed can also make asthma symptoms worse.
- Who is at greatest risk for asthma?
People can get asthma at any age. Asthma affects all races, ages and genders. More boys have asthma than girls, but in adulthood, more women have asthma than men. Although asthma affects people of all ages, it often starts in childhood and is more common in children than adults.
- How can asthma be prevented?
While the root causes of asthma are hard to define, specific exposures are known to cause breathing problems for people with asthma. Having an asthma management plan and following it closely can help prevent asthma attacks, and help reduce visits to the emergency room or the hospital.
- How is asthma treated?
The best way to avoid asthma attacks is to make sure that people with asthma have their condition under control. Asthma can best be controlled by getting proper medications and taking them exactly as your health care provider recommends, and by avoiding triggers that can cause an attack.
Not everyone with asthma should take the same medicines. Some medicines can be inhaled and some can be taken as a pill. Asthma medicines come in two types--quick relief and long-term control. Quick-relief medicines control the symptoms of an asthma attack at the time that it occurs. Long-term control medicines reduce the number of attacks and reduce the severity of the attacks, but are not designed to provide relief during an asthma attack. A health care provider can help make an asthma management plan, which provides specific instructions for how to manage asthma based on symptoms.
- What is the relationship between asthma and the environment?
There are a number of environmental pollutants that can act as asthma triggers. These may be present in indoor and outdoor environments. House dust mites, pet dander, and tobacco smoke are asthma triggers that are commonly found indoors. Common triggers found outdoors include seasonal allergens such as pollen, and pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter.
Ozone is a pollutant that forms in the air as a result of the presence of other pollutants. Ozone pollution is often worst on hot summer days, especially in the afternoons and early evenings. Particulate matter exposure can be high any time of year, even in winter. It can be especially bad when winds are mild and there is a build up of the pollutants in the air., Particulate matter levels can also be high near busy roads or industrial plants, or when there is smoke in the air from wood stoves, fireplaces, or burning vegetation.
- How can tracking asthma improve public health?
The development of standardized analytic methods for asthma hospital admissions and emergency department visits among residents in each state will inform multiple users at the national, state, and local levels. These measures will allow the monitoring of trends over time, identify high risk groups, inform prevention, evaluation and program planning efforts.
- What are the benefits of tracking asthma?
By tracking asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits, several questions can be better answered:
- * How many hospitalizations and emergency department visits for asthma occur in every month?
- * Are there seasonal or temporal trends of asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits?
- * Are there differences in the rates of asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits depending on where a person lives?
- * How do hospitalizations and emergency department visits for asthma differ between geographic areas (for example, zip code, county, state, region)?
- * Are there disparities in asthma hospitalizations and emergency department utilization by factors such as age, race/ethnicity, gender, education, and/or income?
- * Which populations are in greatest need of targeted interventions?
- * When asthma data are linked with environmental variables, do the linked measures identify environmental relationships warranting further investigation or environmental public health action?
- Where can I find out more about asthma?
- Additional information about asthma can be found at the following websites:
- Wisconsin Asthma Program (http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/eh/asthma)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/asthma/)
- Environmental Protection Agency (http://www.epa.gov/asthma/)
- National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Asthma/Asthma_WhatIs.html)
All external hyperlinks are provided for your information and for the benefit of the general public. The Department of Health Services does not testify to, sponsor, or endorse the accuracy of the information provided on externally linked pages.
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Last Revised: April 19, 2012
Data QueryAsthma Data Query:
Access the asthma hospitalization and emergency department data in the WI EPHT online database. Review the Data Details below to learn about interpreting the data.
What is the data source?
The website provides data about asthma hospital admissions and emergency department visits. The source of these data are the Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center, Inc.
How does WI EPHT measure asthma?
The WI EPHT website includes the following measures:
- Annual number of asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits, by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and geography
- Monthly average, maximum, and minimum daily number of asthma hospital admissions and emergency department visits
- Daily number of asthma hospital admissions and emergency department visits
- Annual unadjusted (crude) rate for asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits, for all ages, by gender, race/ethnicity, and geography
- Annual age-specific rates of asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits by gender, race/ethnicity, and geography
- Annual age-adjusted rate for asthma hospitalizations and emergency department visits for all ages, by gender, race/ethnicity, and geography
Why are data about hospital admissions and emergency department visits important for tracking asthma?
Since a registry for reporting asthma cases does not exist, there is a need to find other ways to measure the burden of asthma in Wisconsin. The use of International Classification of Disease (ICD) coding allows for the identification of patients with asthma in the hospital admissions and emergency department visits datasets.
What are some considerations for interpreting the data?
While significant effort is made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the data, there are limitations that are listed below:
- Because these data are based on hospital admissions and emergency department visits, some people who experience symptoms are not included, such as those who do not receive medical care, those whose care does not result in hospitalization, and victims who die in settings such as ambulances, nursing homes, or at home.
- These data do not include hospitalizations and emergency department visits among residents of Wisconsin in facilities in other states (such as those that border Wisconsin).
- These data do not include inpatient admissions or emergency department visits at hospitals owned by the federal government, such as Veterans Administration hospitals.
There are many factors that can contribute to a disease and should be considered when interpreting the data. Some of these include:
- Demographics, e.g., race, gender, age
- Socioeconomic Status, e.g., income level, education
- Geographic, e.g., urban vs. rural
- Changes in the medical field, e.g., diagnosis patterns, reporting requirements
- Individual behavior, e.g., diet, smoking