Updated: February 2018
Author: Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, Vermont Department of Health
The trend line shows a decrease in the percent of adults (≥ 18 years) currently diagnosed with lung disease (Asthma/Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)) to 13% (2017) compared to previous years reported (2011 – 2015). The program has recently added interventions to assist the adult asthma population that may be contributing to these reductions. For example, efforts are underway to encourage individuals to make small changes at home that might mean a big difference for families (adults and children) to live and breathe better. Vermont has a robust weatherization program which can result in improved home conditions with fewer lung irritants including moisture, mold, old carpeting and other triggers. Grants and loans are made available for lower and middle-income families to support these weatherization efforts.
Despite the recent positive trend, the rate of adults with current asthma in Vermont (10%) remains statistically higher than the U.S. overall (9%), with nearly twice as many women likely to report current asthma compared to men (2016 BRFSS Report, September 2017, p.26). The data showed statistically significant higher adult prevalence rates for lung disease (Asthma/COPD) in Bennington and Orleans counties, as well as the Newport Health District and Hospital Service Area, with asthma alone impacting heavily in these same areas. Hospitalizations for asthma for Vermont’s elderly population has remained below 13% throughout the state since 2009, but in Rutland the rate of hospitalizations for 65+ years of age has rates as high as 22%. While this rate has steadily declined since 2009, finding additional ways to bring down the risks of asthma related hospitalizations for seniors in Rutland remains a big challenge. About one in twenty (6%) of Vermont adults have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), the same as the U.S. rate. Adults with less education and lower annual household incomes are more likely to have asthma or COPD.
Adult Vermonters with current asthma were significantly more likely to rank their general health as poor or fair compared to those without asthma. Most importantly, data show that fewer than half of adults cannot carry out normal activity because of their asthma. The main biological risk factors among adult Vermonters with asthma are allergies, genetics, smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke and pollutants, and being overweight. The co-occurrence of chronic conditions include cancer, heart disease and stroke, type 2 diabetes, and COPD.
In Vermont, three out of ten (30%) adults with lung disease (Asthma/COPD) currently smoke. Current tobacco smokers or those who ever smoked were also exposed to second hand smoke and therefore also more likely to have severe persistent asthma and poorly controlled asthma than those who never smoked and were not exposed to second hand smoke. Between 80% and 90% of COPD is due to tobacco use, which is evident when looking at COPD diagnosis by smoking status among Vermont adults. Although the primary cause of COPD is smoking, an increasing number of studies have reported associations between indoor and outdoor air pollution exposures and COPD. Indoor exposures include smoke from tobacco (second hand smoke), biomass fuels, while outdoor environmental exposures are particulate matter (PM10 & PM2.5), ozone, and sulfur dioxide from automobiles and industrial sources. Occupational exposures such as fumes, gases, and both inorganic and organic dusts can also be accounting for some of the COPD cases. Current asthma diagnosis was the most significant risk factor for COPD, even higher than cigarette smoking.
Asthma is a chronic (long-term) disease in which the lungs become inflamed and airways narrow and react to "triggers." The most common environmental trigger for both adults and children at home was the presence of an indoor pet. Other common indoor triggers for Vermonters included carpeting in the bedroom and pets allowed in the bedroom. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a large group of lung diseases characterized by airflow obstruction. COPD is often associated with symptoms related to difficulty in breathing, but can be present without any symptoms. The most important and frequent conditions of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema, but COPD also includes other diagnoses.