If you're driving around Baltimore and happen to spot a recreational vehicle adorned with colorful pictures of children, you've probably seen the University of Maryland Children's Hospital Breathmobile. The Breathmobile is a custom-built pediatric asthma and allergy clinic that travels to almost two dozen schools, providing ongoing asthma and allergy care to children.
It's been in operation since 2002, when the University of Maryland Children's Hospital created the East Coast's first Breathmobile. Inside the Breathmobile, there is a small waiting area, a testing area and two exam rooms. Onboard the Breathmobile, you'll find an asthma team that includes a pediatric allergist or pulmonologist, a pediatric nurse practitioner, a registered nurse and a driver.
What is Asthma and How Big a Problem is it?
Asthma is a VERY BIG problem. It is the leading cause of school absenteeism and the number one reason children go to emergency rooms.
Asthma is a chronic disease of the lung. Children and adults with asthma suffer from periodic attacks when the air passages in the lungs get narrower and breathing becomes more difficult. Someone having an asthma attack may experience coughing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, wheezing or whistling in the chest.
In Baltimore City, asthma has reached epidemic levels. The national prevalence for asthma is 7.5%, whereas almost half of city schools report higher prevalence rates (some as high as 20%), according to a survey by the Baltimore City Health Department. In an effort to keep children in the classroom and out of the emergency room, the University of Maryland Children's Hospital decided a Breathmobile was a must-have addition to Baltimore.
What Happens on the Breathmobile?
Students with signs or symptoms of asthma are referred to the Breathmobile by a school nurse, parents or primary care providers. Once onboard they are given a comprehensive evaluation, testing and treatment. This can include: asthma focused history and physical, lung function testing, allergy skin testing, asthma education, medications, asthma devices and case management services.
There is no cure for asthma, but it can be controlled with medications and by avoiding exposure to asthma triggers. With the right preventive treatment, children with asthma can lead normal lives, attend school, play sports and sleep without symptoms.
How Successful is the Breathmobile?
Since March of 2002, the Breathmobile has treated roughly 3,500 patients and provided more than 10,000 total visits. Data collected suggests the Breathmobile is responsible for a significant improvement in the children who are involved in the program, including a decreased number of lost school days, an increased use of preventive asthma medications and decreased number of emergency visits for asthma. Clearly this program is making a positive impact and improving the quality of life for children with asthma. It is also helping to tackle the asthma epidemic in Baltimore.