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Asthma is a disease that affects your lungs and makes breathing difficult. In the United States, about 25 million people live with asthma; that’s about one out of every 12 people.    Asthma affects people of all genders, races and ages and can develop at any age.  For some people, symptoms only appear when they are exposed to something that irritates their breathing. Other people have a kind of asthma that makes breathing difficult all of the time.

We know that there is a connection between exposure to air pollution and asthma symptoms. For example, many adults and children with asthma are more likely to have symptoms when ozone and particle pollution are in the air. The National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network is helping us understand the connection between outdoor air quality and asthma. By tracking asthma related hospital admissions and the number of people reporting that they live with asthma, the Tracking Network is helping identify high-risk groups and shaping asthma prevention efforts. For example, the graph below shows the available rates of asthma visits to hospital among older adults in Massachusetts from 2000 to 2012.

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  • Ozone (urban smog) is produced from pollution in the presence of sunlight and heat. Pollution from cars, trucks, power plants, and other factors can lead to ozone at ground level. Ozone levels are worst on hot summer days, especially in the afternoons and early evenings.
  • Particulate matter is tiny particles in the air. The particles include dust, dirt, soot, and smoke. Some of them can get deep into your lungs. Particle pollution can be high any time of year, even in winter. It can be worse in calm weather, near busy traffic or factories, and in smoky air.

The National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network is helping us understand the connections between asthma and the outdoor air we breathe. It brings together health and environment data that would normally be kept separate.

Here are some tips to protect yourself and your family:

  • Know your risk for asthma and your sensitivity to air pollution.
  • Know when air pollution is high in your area so you can reduce your exposure. Use the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index for accurate information.
  • Plan activities when and where outdoor air pollution levels are lower.
  • If you have asthma, listen to your body and keep your medicine with you when you are active outdoors.
  • See your health care provider when you need to, and follow an asthma self-management plan.

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