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Frequently Asked Questions: Asthma
What is asthma? What is an asthma attack?

Asthma is a disease that affects the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs. If you have asthma, the inside of these airways is irritated and swollen. This is called inflammation. In asthmatics, the airways are sensitive and more likely to react strongly to infections, allergens, like pollen in the air, or irritants, like smoke and air pollution. 
An asthma attack is a serious problem with breathing. When you have an asthma attack, it's hard to get enough air into and out of your lungs. Your chest feels tight. You may cough or wheeze.

What causes asthma?

No one really knows what causes asthma. It is thought to be an immune response problem. You can get asthma at any age. Once you have asthma, it doesn't go away, although it may get much better at times. There is no cure for asthma, but there are ways to keep it under control.

Who is at risk?

Asthma affects people of all races, genders, and ages. More boys than girls have asthma, but in adulthood, more women than men have asthma.
Although asthma develops at all ages, it often starts in childhood and is more common in children than among adults. Half of the people with asthma developed it in childhood, usually before age 10.
Asthma is not contagious; you cannot catch asthma from someone else. Children are more likely to get asthma if a parent has asthma, if they were born prematurely, or if there is a smoker in the home. Young children under age three with eczema, allergies like hay fever, or severe viral infections may be more likely to develop asthma.

What triggers asthma? How do I prevent asthma?

Asthma episodes and more serious asthma attacks are caused by triggers. The most common indoor asthma triggers are smoke, animals with fur or feathers, dust mites (creatures too small to see that live in dust in beds, pillows, rugs, and furniture cushions), mold or mildew, and strong  fragrances, smells and chemicals, such as chlorine bleach.
Outdoor triggers include plant pollens, and air pollution caused by industrial emissions and automobile exhaust. There are also other triggers such as exercise, breathing cold air, medications, infections, and stress which may cause asthma symptoms. 
Triggers are different for each person with asthma. To help keep your asthma under control, you need to know what things cause asthma attacks for you. These are the "triggers" to avoid. The most effective ways to prevent asthma are to avoid indoor and outdoor "triggers".

Why is preventing asthma so important?

The majority of problems associated with asthma, including emergency room visits and hospitalizations, are preventable if asthma is managed according to established guidelines.
Effective management includes control of exposure to factors that trigger exacerbations, use of asthma medications and inhalers according to doctors' recommendations, and patient education in asthma care.
With effective asthma management, medical care can usually be done in an outpatient or clinic setting. The need for emergency rooms visits or inpatient hospitalizations can be reduced or eliminated and the quality of life can be significantly improved.

Why does EPHT track asthma hospitalizations?

Asthma is the leading chronic health condition among children. There are also large racial, income and geographic disparities in poor asthma outcomes. A number of epidemiologic studies have reported associations between air pollution exposure and asthma.
Tracking asthma hospitalizations can aid in identifying populations or areas with inadequate routine medical care and assist in monitoring the burden of asthma, asthma trends, and how asthma affects health-related quality of life.

More information about asthma