Asthma afflicts about 20 million Americans, including 6.3 million children. Since 1980, the biggest growth in asthma cases has been in children under five. In 2000, there were nearly 2 million emergency room visits and nearly half a million hospitalizations due to asthma, at a cost of almost $2 billion, and causing 14 million school days missed each year.
Asthma is a serious, sometimes life-threatening respiratory disease that affects the quality of life for millions of Americans. EPA's goal is to reduce exposure to indoor asthma triggers and improve the quality of life for 6.5 million people by 2012. In response to the growing asthma problem, EPA created a national, multifaceted asthma education and outreach program to share information about environmental factors – indoors and outdoors – that trigger asthma. Asthma can be controlled through medical treatment and management of environmental triggers.
Additionally, EPA supports efforts to understand the links between environmental factors and asthma. People with asthma are the only segment of the population who have been identified to be the most acutely responsive to ozone exposure. Ozone can irritate the already sensitive airway of someone with asthma. When ozone levels are high, more asthmatics have asthma episodes that require a doctor's attention or the use of additional medication. One reason this happens is that ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens, which are the most common triggers for asthma episodes. Also, asthmatics are more severely affected by reduced lung function and irritation to the respiratory system caused by ozone.
Some of the more common indoor asthma triggers include:
Secondhand smoke - Secondhand smoke is a mixture of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke exhaled by the smoker.
Dust mites - Dust mites are too small to be seen, but can be found in almost every home, in mattresses and bedding materials, carpets, upholstered furniture, stuffed toys and curtains.
Mold - Mold can grow indoors when mold spores land on wet or damp surfaces. In the home, mold is most commonly found in the bathrooms, kitchens and basements.
Cockroaches and other pests - Cockroach body parts, secretions and droppings, and the urine, droppings and saliva of pests, such as rodents, are often found in areas where food and water are present.
Warm-blooded household pets (such as cats and dogs) - Pets' skin flakes, urine and saliva can be found in homes where pets are allowed inside.
Combustion byproducts - Nitrogen dioxide is an odorless gas that can be a byproduct of indoor fuel-burning appliances, such as wood stoves, gas or oil furnaces, fireplaces, gas stoves and unvented kerosene or gas space heaters.
Agencies, organizations and individuals are encouraged to work with EPA, nonprofit advocacy agencies and other asthma-related agencies to improve their own knowledge of asthma triggers and how they can be reduced or eliminated.
More information on Asthma Awareness Month