WHAT IS ASTHMA?
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- Asthma is a lung disease charaterized by recurring
episodes or attacks that cause shortness of breath.
- Asthma is a chronic reversible airway or lung disease that causes obstruction
of the airways from: constriction of the muscle of the
lungs or airways; inflammation of the lining of the
lungs or airways; over-sensitivity of the lungs or airways;
and increased mucus production.
- There is no generally accepted cause of asthma.
- There is no known cure.
- Asthma may require daily management or treatment depending
on the frequency and severity of the symptoms.
- Symptoms can be managed and stabilized for most people,
but this requires prescription medicine and the avoidance
of asthma triggers.
SOME STATISTICS ON ASTHMA
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- During 1998, The U.S. Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention estimated that:
- More than 17 million Americans had asthma.
- Over 5,000 people died from asthma.
- Medical expenses and lost productivity cost Americans
over 11.3 billion dollars.
- Between 1980 and 1994:
- Asthma rates for all ages increased 75%.
- Asthma rates for all children under four years
of age increased 160%.
- Children, the poor and minorities experienced
the greatest rate increase.
- In New Jersey, hospital admissions totaled 13,521
due to asthma. Minorities of all ages accounted
for slightly over 1/2 of hospital admissions due
- Lack of access to health care may be why minorities
made up the majority of hospital admissions.
- Children under the age of five years accounted
for 1/5 of the hospital admissions.
- 58% of the children admitted were either Black
WHY DO PEOPLE GET
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- Asthma may be caused by both genetic and environmental
factors, but to date there is no generally accepted
cause of asthma.
- There may be an association between asthma and air
pollution because almost 25% of American children with
asthma live in areas where ozone levels are above the national standard.
- Studies have shown that individuals living in urban
environments are more at risk for asthma.
- Occupational exposures to antibiotics and other substances
have been associated with occupational asthma.
- No one has been able to determine why some people
get asthma and others do not. In some cases children
may "grow out" of asthma. In other cases,
some adults may get asthma later in life.
- Changes in nutrition and the increased use of anti-microbials
have also been suggested as other possible causes of
- A heavy feeling in the chest
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty breathing
- Increased mucus production
- Itchy throat, neck and ears
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms and severity of symptoms vary greatly from person
to person. Symptoms often occur:
Symptoms can be well managed and stabilized for most
people who have asthma but this requires medical attention
and the knowledge of triggers. If you suspect that you
or your child have asthma, see your physician.
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Trigger is a term that is used to describe things that
have been associated with causing asthmatic symptoms,
attacks or episodes. Triggers include but are not limited
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- Air Toxics: The compounds acrolein and formaldehyde
are known or suspected respiratory irritants.
These would have the potential to cause an asthma attack.
It has been difficult to determine at what levels these
compounds cause asthma episodes because multiple exposures occur at the same time in any given home or community.
More research is needed to identify which air toxics
cause asthma episodes and at what level the episodes
- Cleaning agents
- Cold air
- Dust or dust mites
- Infectious diseases or viruses like the common cold
- Pet dander,
- Rats and mice
- Tobacco smoke
NEW JERSEY PROGRAMS
Here are a few activities going on within New Jersey
state agencies, relating to asthma.
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- New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
- Statewide monitoring of air pollutants which are
known or suspected to cause asthmatic attacks.
- Research investigating the association between
ozone levels and asthmatic emergency room visits
- New Jersey Department of Health (NJDoH)
- Asthma surveillance began in the fall of 2000
when New Jersey was one of twelve states funded
by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
to develop a comprehensive, statewide surveillance
- Education and outreach by the NJDoH and the Department
of Education is being done to inform childcare providers,
schools, asthmatics and their families about possible
causes, triggers and treatments for asthma.
- The Division of Family Health Services, Special
Child and Adult Health and Early Intervention Services
has a registry for children with chronic illnesses
such as asthma. Financial assistance is available
for prescription drugs for children with asthma
if the family qualifies.
- The Division of Epidemiology, Environmental and
Occupational Health tracks occupational asthma.
Click on any of these links for more information about
For daily air quality reports click on http://www.njaqinow.net
See the What
You Can Do webpage for everyday activities that help
reduce air pollution and do your part to reduce the triggers
that lead to asthmatic symptoms.
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GLOSSARY OF ASTHMA TERMS
Acid aerosols - Sulfur
and nitrogen compounds which are in the air. These are
known respiratory irritants that can cause asthma attacks.
Airways - The passages in the lungs that move air
into and out of the body. Sometimes called bronchial tubes,
bronchi or respiratory system.
Allergen - A substance which causes an allergic
response in sensitive individuals. Allergens can be either
natural (e.g., pollen, dust) or manmade (e.g., perfume,
Allergic reaction - Response in sensitive people
to specific allergens. An allergic reaction can occur
in different parts of the body. Common areas include the
skin, the eyes, the respiratory system and the gastrointestinal
tract. Symptoms often include itching, sneezing, runny
nose, coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath.
Allergy/allergies - An overreaction by the body's
immune system to a specific substance called an allergen.
An allergy occurs only in people sensitive to a particular
Asthma - A chronic, reversible airway/lung disease
that makes it hard to breathe by causing periodic swelling
and over-responsiveness of the lungs and airways.
Asthma attack/asthma episode - When asthma symptoms
occur or intensify. Immediate adjustments in treatment
and medication to get symptoms under control are usually
required. Asthma episodes may occur suddenly, with few
warning signs, or build slowly over a period of hours
or even days.
Chronic - long duration or
frequent recurrence, always present or encountered.
Dander - Scaly or shredded
dry skin that comes from animals or bird feathers. Dander
may be a cause of an allergic response in susceptible
Exposure - The contact between
one or more physical human boundaries (such as lungs or
skin) and a substance for a specific period of time.
Irritant - Any substance
which causes inflammation or an adverse reaction on the
skin or in the body. An irritant may trigger asthma or
allergy symptoms, but it may not be considered an allergen.
Examples of irritants include tobacco smoke, chemical
fumes, pesticides or air pollutants.
Mucus - Often called phlegm
or sputum, this thick fluid is produced by cells which
line the airways. Exposure to certain triggers can cause
an increase in mucus production for asthma patients. The
increased amount of mucus makes breathing more difficult
by narrowing the airways. Mucus that is not clear may
indicate an infection (unrelated to asthma) in the airways.
Ozone - an air pollutant that
is formed from other air pollutants and sunlight. Unhealthy
levels can occur during the summer in New Jersey. Studies
have shown that ozone causes asthma attacks. Click here for more information.
Particulate matter -
small particles suspended in the air that may be respiratory
irritants. Some studies have associated particulate matter
with asthma attacks.
Trigger/triggers - A substance
or environmental condition that causes asthmatic symptoms.
Wheezing/wheeze - The whistling
sound that occurs when air moves though narrowed or tightened
airways. Wheezing is a classic symptom of asthma. Not
all wheezing can be heard by the ears; a stethoscope may
be needed to detect levels of wheezing within the lungs.
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