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Asthma Information

"" What is Asthma?
"" Some Statistics on Asthma
"" Why Do People Get Asthma?
"" Asthma Symptoms
"" Asthma Triggers
"" New Jersey Programs
"" Additional Information
"" Glossary of Asthma Terms



  • 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.
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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 to asthma.
  • 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 or Hispanic.
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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 asthma.
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  • A heavy feeling in the chest
  • Chest tightness
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Increased mucus production
  • Itchy throat, neck and ears
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing

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 to:


  • 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 occur.
  • Acid aerosols
  • Cleaning agents
  • Cockroaches
  • Cold air
  • Dust or dust mites
  • Exercise
  • Feathers
  • Fragrances
  • Fungi
  • Fumes
  • Infectious diseases or viruses like the common cold
  • Molds
  • Pollens
  • Ozone
  • Particulate matter
  • Pesticides
  • Pet dander, especially cats
  • Plasticizers
  • Rats and mice
  • Tobacco smoke
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Here are a few activities going on within New Jersey state agencies, relating to asthma.

  • New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP)
    • 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 and hospitalizations.
  • 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 program.
    • 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.
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Click on any of these links for more information about Asthma.

"" Asthma Resource Directory
"" National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Facts about Asthma-Schools & Child Care Centers)
"" National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (Facts about Asthma-Schools & Child Care Centers)
"" American Lung Association
"" Clearing Your Home of Asthma Triggers
"" Allergy and Asthma Network
"" Asthma and Schools
"" Your Child and Asthma
"" Allies Against Asthma
"" Air Advisory E-mail List

For daily air quality reports click on

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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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, cleaning agents).
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 allergen(s).
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 persons.
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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