For Tracy Campbell, 9, of East Baltimore, the most difficult aspect of having asthma is trying to remain calm during an attack.
"It's just trying to relax and get my medicine because I know it [asthma] can kill you," said Tracy, a fifth-grade student at Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. Elementary School. "I wonder if it will go away. You can get real, real sick. I know that."
Tracy is one of 240 East Baltimore youngsters who will take part in a six-week asthma-management course sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the Oliver community and the Baltimore public schools.
The program is designed keep young asthmatics out of the hospital and reduce their disabilities, according to Robert Stokes, director of the Human Services Division of the Oliver Community HUB.
The program is the first of its kind nationally, he said yesterday.
Intended to teach youths and their families what to do in the event of an attack, the program is funded for two years by the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Abell Foundation for $89,000.
"We chose asthma because studies show that asthma has gone at an alarming rate in the inner city, particularly in black neighborhoods," Mr. Stokes said. "We want to educate them to how serious it is."
Asthma is a lung disease characterized by recurrent attacks of ++ breathlessness usually accompanied by wheezing when exhaling. The illness frequently begins during childhood but may clear up or become less severe in early adulthood. The severity varies from day to day and hour to hour, and can be fatal if not treated.
More than 4,000 Baltimore City schoolchildren suffer from asthma, according to Dr. Peyton Eggleston, an asthma specialist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
"The prevalence is worse [in the inner city]," Dr. Eggleston said, noting that 11 percent of Baltimore children ages 5 to 12 have asthma, compared with about 5 percent of children in the same age group who live in the suburbs.
Dr. Eggleston said that urban youths are more susceptible to asthma because of factors in their environment, including air and traffic pollutants. "But also some other things, like wall to wall carpeting -- that cheap flooring that holds allergens and other stuff and is widely used in the inner city."
Dr. Eggleston added that many poor households don't have a vacuum cleaner or one that works well enough to rid their homes of allergens, or substances that trigger attacks.
Many inner city youths do not get proper medical attention to allow early detection of asthma, and often see a doctor only after going to a hospital emergency room, he said.
In the program, a nurse educator will visit four Eastside elementary schools -- Harford Heights Johnston Square Dr. Bernard Harris Sr. and Madison Square -- to instruct students on what causes an asthma attack, what happens to their bodies and how to control and prevent attacks.
Mr. Stokes said that the program will also include home instruction on asthma management conducted by community health workers.