What is Asthma?

Asthma is considered a chronic (or long-term) disease that affects the lungs. Asthma occurs when the airways narrow, making it difficult to breathe. Knowing how the human airway works helps make asthma more understandable. The human airway consists of tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. With asthma, the airways become inflamed making the airways narrower. In addition, the membranes lining the inside of the airways may secrete excess mucus which can also restrict the flow of oxygen. Asthma cannot be cured but managed through medication, environment, and behavioral changes.

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Asthma affects approximately 20 million people across the nation; nearly 6.5 million (9% of all children) are under the age of 18. Costs of asthma total $14 billion, including $9.4 billion in direct costs and $4.6 billion in indirect costs (missed school and work days). People with difficult-to-control asthma comprise the majority of asthma-associated costs, with 80% of asthma-associated costs driven by 20% of the asthma population. Children with at least one asthma attack in the previous year (nearly 4 million children) missed a cumulative total of 12.8 million school days.

In Hawaii over 106,000 people are affected by asthma and approximately one-third are children. Each year approximately 5,000 people in Hawaii are rushed to the emergency room because of asthma; infants and very young children (0 – 4 years of age) continue to make up the majority of emergency room visits and hospitalizations due to asthma. Another 1,500 people are admitted to hospitals for asthma each year.  Although the asthma mortality rate has declined over the past 10 years, in Hawaii it remains above the national average and in 2004 accounted for 23 deaths.