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Asthma is an illness that affects the respiratory tract and airways that carry oxygen into and out of the lungs. During an asthma attack, these airways constrict, resulting in wheezing and difficulty breathing. Asthma can affect people of all ages. However, it often starts in childhood and is more common in children than adults.

Asthma is a common chronic disease that continues to increase in prevalence. It is the most common chronic disease in children. The state of Massachusetts has an elevated rate of asthma compared to the national prevalence rate.

Causes of asthma are unknown. However, episodes of asthma (asthma attacks) can be triggered by certain environmental pollutants such as air pollution, mold, pets/pet dander, and dust mites. A number of studies have reported links between exposure to air pollution and asthma. Reducing exposure to these pollutants can help prevent symptoms. Other factors are also linked with asthma. Therefore, when comparing asthma rates across geographic areas, factors such as access to medical care and health behaviors (e.g., diet or exercise) must also be considered. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) participates in two programs associated with tracking asthma rates in the state.

Asthma hospitalization

Hospitalization resulting from asthma occurs regularly and often when unnecessary. Contributing factors include uncontrolled asthma conditions, limited access to health care services, and/or inadequate medical treatment practices.

Data on hospitalization visits are collected by the Massachusetts Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) from all acute care hospitals and satellite emergency facilities in the state. CHIA collects information on all inpatient hospital admissions and emergency department (ED) visits.

MDPH analyzes these data and provides asthma hospitalization rates for adults and children of all ages for both inpatient hospital admissions and ED visits. Some asthma patients enter the hospital through an ED, but are later admitted to the hospital as inpatients. These patients are included in both the ED visit and inpatient hospitalization rates.

Pediatric asthma tracking in elementary and middle schools

Asthma is a chronic disease that most commonly starts during childhood. To track asthma prevalence among children in Massachusetts, a state-wide surveillance program was implemented with participation from public and private schools serving grades kindergarten through eighth grade. Beginning in 2003 and continuing through the present, the MDPH has tracked the occurrence of pediatric asthma through school health records.

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