About one in every 11 L.A. County kids has asthma, and managing it poses three major challenges for parents: getting an asthma action plan, sticking to that plan and periodically reevaluating it to keep it current.
“People with any chronic condition need to get organized on a daily basis,” says Marilyn Li, M.D., co-director of the Breathmobile program at LAC+USC Medical Center. “In order for it to be effective, families have to fit their treatment plan into their day.” Since 1995, the small fleet of RVs in the Breathmobile program has been visiting schools and other locations throughout the county to help with these challenges.
Li advises parents of children who they suspect have asthma to visit their pediatrician, bringing questions, medical histories and any prescriptions or medications their child is taking with them. All kids diagnosed with asthma should have a personalized plan that includes instructions to follow when your child is doing well, when they are experiencing mild asthma symptoms and when their symptoms become more severe.
Arrange your schedule so that you can follow your child’s plan, and have everything you need on hand. “Make sure that you have all of the pieces,” Li says. “Don’t go to the pharmacy and drop off the prescription and then not go back for three days or five days or two weeks.”
At Breathmobile visits, Li guides families, clearing expired medications from their stash and suggesting they set the alarm five minutes earlier in the morning so they can give medication. She also encourages families to schedule checkups every three months – even if the child is doing well – to keep their action plans up to date, because asthma changes with the seasons.
November and December bring the Santa Ana winds, which stir up pollen, dust and mold. “Whatever’s been on the ground, it gets blown up into the air,” Li says.
Live Christmas trees can also bring pollen and mold into the home. That cozy fire in the fireplace adds smoke to the mix, and holiday celebrations can pose risks for kids who have food allergies along with their asthma. Holiday travel and activities can also make it tougher to stick to your asthma action plan, but Li reminds families that, “There’s no holiday for your asthma.”
School nurses and others at Breathmobile partner sites – which are often Los Angeles Unified School District schools – help identify children in need of a visit, then schedule appointments on dates when a Breathmobile is in their area.
At Breathmobile appointments, kids can get a diagnosis and action plan, and receive prescriptions and practical advice for managing asthma and allergies. “It is a full-service clinic just like any other doctor’s office,” Li says. A family’s insurance is billed if possible, and there is sometimes a cost for medication, but there is otherwise no out-of-pocket cost for the visit.
The newest Breathmobile partner is Barlow Respiratory Hospital in Elysian Park, serving families in the Echo Park neighborhood near Dodger Stadium. The Breathmobile will visit Barlow Nov. 20, and families interested in appointments at this or other Breathmobile sites can visit www.labreathmobile.com or call 323-409-3737.