Saint Louis University

ST. LOUIS – On Wednesdays, a group of medical students join Ray Slavin, M.D., at the Health Resource Center (HRC) to treat patients battling asthma and severe allergies.

The new asthma and allergy clinic at the free facility run by medical students of Saint Louis University offers to diagnose and treat asthma and allergies for people with limited access to health care.
The clinic will provide care for medically underserved patients in the St. Louis area.

“Asthma is a reversible disease. It’s treatable,” says Slavin, professor, emeritus of allergy and immunology at Saint Louis University. “But often times patients in the inner city can’t make it to a health care facility because of a variety of reasons including limited transportation and affordability.”

For Slavin, the first step is to diagnose a patient. “Many asthmatics are underdiagnosed,” he says.

In older patients, coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath are commonly mistaken as signs of aging, and in children these symptoms are often labeled as chronic bronchitis. But in many cases, it could be asthma, he says. At the clinic, students first chart the medical history of a patient. After learning about the case, Slavin performs a physical exam followed by a pulmonary function test. In many instances he asks students to perform a skin test to determine precise substances a patient is allergic to. Slavin’s first treatment approach is to advise patients of environment control, which means reducing exposure to substances that trigger their asthma. His second approach is prescribing medications to treat the condition.

“There are two types of asthma inhalers. One treats immediate reactions but doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. The others are controller inhalers that are taken daily and reduce inflammation, and help keep patients out of emergency room and the hospital,” Slavin says.

Another important problem Slavin and students wish to address are nasal symptoms that 90 percent of asthma patients experience.

“If you manage nasal symptoms well, asthma comes under better control,” he says. “At the HRC, we provide nasal sprays, which reduce the nasal symptoms.”

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways, which can have a major impact on a person’s professional and social life if left untreated.

“People who are constantly coughing, wheezing and feel shortness of breath cannot hold jobs,” Slavin says. “They also can’t exercise, because that triggers asthma. As a result they may gain weight, which compounds the problem.”

Chelsea Del Rosso, a first year medical student, is one of the students who helps Slavin run the clinic. She schedules patients, fields their questions, stocks supplies and manages the student volunteers who come in to perform the skin tests. She believes offering an allergy clinic for the underserved population is vital.

“Asthma is a chronic condition that many face in our city’s population and several health insurance plans don’t cover the costs of the tests as the coverage is limited,” she says. “We get a chance to do these tests for free, and to work with the patients to get them the best medication.”

The clinic provides a great learning opportunity for students in the initial stage of their medical career. While Del Rosso is building strong management and leadership skills at the allergic clinic, she is also learning how to diagnose and treat patients by closely observing Slavin.

“We learn about diagnoses, the types of tests he performs. There’s a lot of education at the clinic,” she says. “It’s also a great opportunity to understand and provide care for the underserved population.”

The HRC celebrated its 20th anniversary last fall with a move to a larger facility in north St. Louis. It’s located in the Victor Roberts Building, 1408 N. Kingshighway, between Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and Page Boulevard. During the summer, the clinic will be held on June 4 and July 2 only between 1-3 p.m. by appointment only.

Starting August 20, the clinic will run every Wednesday.

For more information about the allergy clinic or to reserve an appointment, contact the Health Resource Center at 314 720 1522. Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first medical degree west of the Mississippi River. The school educates physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health care on a local, national and international level. Research at the school seeks new cures and treatments in five key areas: infectious disease, liver disease, cancer, heart/lung disease, and aging and brain disorders.