Asthma causes serious breathing difficulty
Asthma is a chronic disease that includes broncho-constriction (tightening of the muscles around the airways) and inflammation (swelling) of the bronchial tubes. During normal breathing, air flows freely in and out of the lungs. But, during an asthma episode, the lining of the airways swell, muscles around the airways tighten and mucus clogs the tiny airways in the lungs, making breathing difficult. The airways become overly responsive to environmental changes, sometimes resulting in wheezing, coughing, breathlessness, or tightness in the chest.
Asthma is one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. Asthma is an increasing concern across the country because of rising incidence rates, especially in children. Asthma disproportionately impacts children, females, African-Americans, and people with low incomes.
Asthma can be triggered by many things
People with asthma have airways that narrow more easily than people who do not have asthma. People with asthma are often allergic or sensitive to inhaled allergens or irritants. The causes of airway abnormality and their relationship to allergies and irritants are not known.
A variety of factors can trigger an asthma episode including:
- viral infections
- exposures to allergens (e.g., dust mites, dander protein particles shed by pets; mold; pollen)
- tobacco smoke
- air pollution
- strong emotional expressions
- chemical irritants
- drugs (aspirin and beta blockers)
Each person with asthma can react to a different set of triggers. Identification of these factors in an individual is a major step towards learning how to prevent an asthma episode. See list of asthma triggers, and visit Be Air Aware to learn how to stay healthy and improve air quality.
What is being done about asthma?
- The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) Asthma Program educates health care professionals, the public, and others about actions to reduce exposures to asthma triggers, and tracks data on asthma prevalence, morbidity, and mortality.
- The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency tracks ambient air pollutants, including particulate matter and ozone, in Minnesota. MPCA and MDH are working to evaluate the public health impacts of air pollution on health, and to communicate information about the Air Quality Index (AQI).
- The MDH Indoor Air Quality Program enforces the Minnesota Clean Indoor Air Act, which regulates smoking in indoor public places, tracks research about the health effects of air pollutants on an ongoing basis, and incorporates new methods and data into health risk assessments and best practices guidelines.
- The MDH Tobacco Prevention and Control Program works to improve the health of Minnesotans by promoting the reduction of tobacco use.
- MDH Health Economics Program (HEP) studies asthma data from the MN All Payer Claims Database (MN APCD) to understand how asthma affects health care costs, quality, and illness burden in specific locations or populations. HEP also provides data to inform state health care policies. See all material using MN APCD data.