Asthma in Baltimore

Baltimore leads the state in asthma mortality with 34 deaths per 1,000,000 people vs. 14 deaths per 1,000,000.1 Baltimore also has the highest pediatric asthma hospitalization rate in Maryland and one of the highest in the nation.

The age adjusted asthma hospitalization rate for Baltimore is more than twice the rate for Maryland (43.2 per 10,000 vs. 14.2 per 10,000)2. The rate of ED visits due to asthma is nearly three times higher among Baltimore City residents compared to the state (202 per 10,000 people ves. 70 per 10,000 people).3

28% of high school students in Baltimore City reported having been diagnosed with asthma, compared to 20% of students nationwide in 2007.4

For more information about asthma in Baltimore, visit the Greater Baltimore Asthma Alliance Website.

  1. Family Health Administration, Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Maryland Asthma Surveillance Report 2008. Online at:
  2. Based on state hospital inpatient discharge data, provided by state and local environmental health tracking networks to CDC, available at
  3. FHA, 2008.
  4. Centers for Disease Control. 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Available at Accessed April 27, 2010.

What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways – the tubes that bring air in and out of your lungs – that can cause breathing problems. People with asthma have airways that are sensitive to things called triggers. Triggers cause the airways to swell and fill up with mucus, and make the muscles around the airways tighten. All of this makes it difficult to breathe. Everyone’s asthma triggers are different. People with asthma can have repeated episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest tightness, and coughing.

Asthma cannot be cured, but it can be controlled! People with asthma can control their symptoms and the effects of the disease with the help of their doctor and medication, and by avoiding their triggers. Click here for a list of the top ten asthma triggers to avoid.

When asthma is under control a person should be able to be active, feel good, and sleep through the night. When asthma is controlled a person:

  • Has no or few asthma symptoms even after exercise and at night.
  • Has few asthma attacks and misses little time from school or work.
  • Should be able to exercise without symptoms.
  • Has no emergency room visits or hospital stays.
  • Needs to use quick-relief medicine (albuterol) fewer than twice per week during the day or twice per month at night.
  • Has few side effects from medicine.

Asthma that is not well controlled can lead to many school or work absences, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations.

Click here for the Top 10 Things You Should Know About Asthma handout (pdf)

What Can You Do?

Take steps to manage your (or your child’s) asthma:

  1. Know your early signs of worsening asthma so you can take your medication or contact your doctor and prevent a serious attack
  2. Have an Asthma Action Plan
  3. Use your medications as prescribed by your doctor
  4. Avoid your asthma triggers
  5. See your doctor regularly
  6. Know how to respond to an asthma episode

Recognizing Signs and Symptoms

It is also critical to know your asthma signs and symptoms. Relief medication works best when it is taken as soon as symptoms appear. Common signs include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness

Early signs and symptoms usually include:

  • Feeling sweaty / getting sudden chills
  • Feeling edgy for no reason
  • Funny feeling in chest or throat
  • Feeling tired even after sleeping
  • Itchy chin or neck
  • Chronic cough

Click here to find out the top asthma early warning signs.

Asthma Action Plan

Your doctor can help by filling out an Asthma Action Plan (pdf). The Asthma Action Plan is a form that your health care provider fills out that explains how to manage your child’s asthma. You should give a copy of the Asthma Action Plan to everyone who cares for your child.

Baltimore City Public Schools have their own School Health Asthma Action Plans. These forms should be completed and signed by your health care provider, and a copy given to the school nurse or health aide. These forms let the school know what and how much medicine to give your child in the event of an asthma attack.

Asthma Medications

It is important to work with your doctor to find the right combination of medications that will control asthma symptoms. There are two kinds of asthma medications:

  1. Controller (daily) medications that:
    • Reduce underlying airway inflammation
    • Prevent symptoms
    • Should be taken daily, even if feeling ok
    • Can take up to two weeks to work
  2. Relief (or rescue) medication that:
    • Relaxes airway muscles, opens the airway
    • Is used to relieve symptoms
    • Is taken when symptoms first develop or before encountering a trigger

Asthma Triggers

It is also important to know what triggers your asthma and take steps to reduce those triggers. Click here to learn about things you can do to control asthma triggers.

Asthma Health and Medical Services

If your child does not have a physician, you can schedule a visit on the Breathmobile. The Breathmobile is a pediatric asthma and allergy clinic that travels to almost two dozen schools, providing ongoing asthma and allergy care to children.

What Services Does BCHD Provide?

Home Visiting Services

The Community Asthma Program and Reducing Asthma Disparities programs are enrolling Baltimore City children ages 2 to 18 who suffer from moderate to severe asthma. Home visits from trained community health workers will help families improve asthma management through:

  • General asthma education
  • Assistance in creating Asthma Action Plans with health care providers
  • Ensuring access to medication
  • Assisting families in reducing exposure to asthma triggers
  • Providing supplies to reduce home-based asthma triggers
  • Establishing community-based support networks
  • Improving communication with medical providers

Home Visit services can be requested by calling 410-396-3848, or by faxing the referral form for asthma services to 410-244-1366.

Community Education and Support Services

The Healthy Homes bureau is enrolling parents and caregivers of children with asthma in free asthma education groups. Scheduling is flexible, and groups are located throughout the city. Group sessions will help parents and caregivers improve asthma management through:

  • Providing information about what happens in the body during an asthma episode
  • Increasing understanding of asthma triggers and trigger reduction
  • Recognizing signs and symptoms of asthma episodes
  • Sharing concerns about caring for a child with asthma
  • Information about groups can be obtained by calling 410-396-3896, or by faxing the referral formto 410-244-1366

How to Respond to an Asthma Episode

  1. Stop the child’s activity, and help to an upright position
  2. Follow the child’s Asthma Action Plan
  3. Help the child use his/her inhaled quick relief medication:
    • Spray, wait one minute, repeat
  4. Get emergency help if child fails to improve immediately.
  5. Call 911: If child is hunched over, struggling to breathe, talk, stay awake, or has blue lips.