Tracking Asthma in Vermont

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Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in the U.S. Vermont has one of the highest rates of asthma among adults (11%) and women (14%).

If you have asthma, work with your health care provider to make a written asthma management plan (also called an Asthma Action Plan).

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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, smoke, secondhand smoke, and pet dander.

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 who has asthma.

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

Air pollution can trigger attacks and make asthma symptoms worse. Two key air pollutants can affect asthma. One is ozone—found in smog—and the other is particle pollution—found in haze, smoke, and dust. When ozone and particle pollution are in the air, adults and children who have 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 near busy roads, during rush hour, and around factories and when smoke is in the air from wood stoves, fireplaces, forest fires, or burning vegetation.

How is asthma impacted by climate change in Vermont?

A lengthening growing season and increased plant growth due to higher levels of carbon dioxide in the air will likely increase allergenic pollen in the air we breathe. This could have widespread respiratory impacts to Vermonters, especially those with asthma.

More frequent heavy precipitation events and other severe weather events—such as high winds, flooding, and winter storms—can cause water damage to buildings, increasing problems with household mold. And, as outdoor humidity rises with climate change, indoor humidity and the potential for condensation and dampness will likely rise. Climate-induced rises in indoor dampness can increase health problems related to dampness and mold, such as worsening asthma.

What asthma data are included in the Vermont Tracking portal?

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.

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

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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