Induction of asthma and the environment: what we know and need to know.
The prevalence of asthma has increased dramatically over the last 25 years in the United States and in other nations as a result of ill-defined changes in living conditions in modern society. On 18 and 19 October 2004 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences sponsored the workshop "Environmental Influences on the Induction and Incidence of Asthma" to review current scientific evidence with respect to factors that may contribute to the induction of asthma. Participants addressed two broad questions: a) What does the science suggest that regulatory and public health agencies could do now to reduce the incidence of asthma? and b) What research is needed to improve our understanding of the factors that contribute to the induction of asthma and our ability to manage this problem? In this article (one of four articles resulting from the workshop), we briefly characterize asthma and its public health and economic impacts, and intervention strategies that have been successfully used to prevent induction of asthma in the workplace. We conclude with the findings of seven working groups that focus on ambient air, indoor pollutants (biologics), occupational exposures, early life stages, older adults, intrinsic susceptibility, and lifestyle. These groups found strong scientific support for public health efforts to limit in utero and postnatal exposure to cigarette smoke. However, with respect to other potential types of interventions, participants noted many scientific questions, which are summarized in this article. Research to address these questions could have a significant public health and economic impact that would be well worth the investment.