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Check out the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network!  The Tracking Network is helping us better understand the relationship between health and air pollution.  For example, asthma is a disease that can affect your lungs and make 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.  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.

Air Pollution and Asthma

We know that there is a connection between exposure to air pollution and asthma symptoms. For instance, 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 they live with asthma, the Tracking Network is helping identify high-risk groups and shaping asthma prevention efforts.  Go to  to learn more.

  • Asthma and the environment
    • Exposure to outdoor air pollution can play a role in asthma attacks among adults and children with asthma. The latest data from 2010 shows that asthma is more common in children than adults, more common in women than men, and more common in African Americans than in Hispanics or Caucasians.
    • The Tracking Network has data on outdoor air pollution as well as estimates of people living with asthma and some of their characteristics, the percent of people ever told by a physician that they have asthma, and asthma-related hospital stays.
    • In Massachusetts 12.4% of children ages 5-14 have a diagnosis of asthma (2014 School-based Pediatric Asthma Surveillance)

The Connection between Outdoor Air Quality and Asthma

Air pollution can make asthma symptoms worse and trigger attacks. Adults and children with asthma may be more sensitive to air pollution exposures such as ground level ozone and particulate matter.

    • Ground Level Ozone is a main component of smog. Ozone can trigger asthma attacks and make existing asthma worse. It is produced at ground level when pollution from cars and trucks, power plants, factories, and other sources react with heat and sunlight.  Ozone is often worst on hot summer days, especially in the afternoons and early evenings.
    • Particulate Matter is a term that refers to a wide range of pollutants that are suspended as tiny particles in the air. These can include dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and little drops of liquids.  Some of these fine particles can get into the deep part of your lungs and can trigger asthma attacks or other breathing problems.

 Particle pollution can be bad any time of year, even in winter. It can be especially bad:

  • when the weather is calm and air pollution builds up;
  • near busy roads, during rush hour, and around factories that produce air pollution; and
  • when smoke is in the air from wood stoves, fireplaces, or burning vegetation.

Air Pollution and Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. About one of every four deaths in the United States is caused by heart disease. The air you breathe may increase your risk for developing heart problems. The National EPHT Network is helping us understand this connection between heart health and the air we breathe.  EPHT is the best internet resource that explains the relationships between some environmental conditions and health problems. EPHT makes it easy to see information and recognize factors about certain community qualities that may cause a higher risk of heart problems related to air pollution.

People who breathe fine particle pollution either short-term or long-term have more heart and lung problems than people who do not breathe this kind of air pollution. Fine particle pollution is generated by burning fossil fuels. It is dangerous because it is made up of tiny particles that are small enough to be inhaled deeply into lungs, where they can affect the heart, lungs, and blood vessels.

You can use the following tips to help protect your heart from air pollution:

  1. Know what your risk for cardiovascular disease is and how sensitive you are to air pollution.
  2. Know when air pollution may be high in your area and reduce your exposure. Use the Air Quality Index ( to get accurate information.
  3. Plan activities when and where pollution levels are lower.

Learn more about air quality and heart disease in your area, on the Tracking Network’s Info by Location tool.   Visit Environmental Public Health Tracking at

Written By:

EPHT Program Manager and Epidemiologist in the Bureau of Environmental Health

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