Optichamber Diamond

Washington DC is one of the worst cities in the country for pediatric asthma. For one thing, it’s a city and cities are commonly filled with air pollutants. It’s also hot and humid, allowing mold and other allergens to grow freely. But one of the most serious problems is simply a lack of education.

DC is divided into two by the Anacostia River. On the Northwest side, families tend to be richer, better educated and have fewer trips to the ER due to asthma. But on the Southeast side, families are poorer and 10 times more likely to end up in the ER for asthma. What’s sad is most of these trips are preventable.

That’s why ER doctor Stephen Teach set up the Asthma Clinic ten years ago—to teach families how to prevent asthma attacks. Every family who goes to the ER for asthma is invited to attend the clinic. There doctors, nurses, and educators explain how families can best prevent asthma attacks—everything from how to keep your home free of common asthma triggers to how to properly use medication distributors such as inhalers, nebulizers, and spacers.

One common mistake families make is treating asthma like it’s a cold rather than a chronic condition, and only having their asthmatic child take medication when they feel bad. Another common mistake is not letting children exercise. Though exercise can in some cases trigger an asthma attack, if children don’t exercise their lungs will become weaker and they’ll be able to do even less.

Fortunately, the Asthma Clinic has improved things significantly. Since its start, ER visits have fallen by 40% despite the fact that the prevalence of asthma continues to increase. But Teach isn’t done yet. According to him, “Our goal is to make asthma control as good in Southeast as it is in Northwest. It’s a fundamental question of health equity.”