7 Ways That Parents Can Help Teens With Asthma
As children with asthma grow into their teens, they will need to take more control of their asthma. Here's how you can both transition smoothly into those new responsibilities.
By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Most mornings Tommy Allred, 14, who lives just south of Dallas, gets up feeling fantastic despite having asthma since he was just 2. Before he heads out the door for school, his mom, Alexandra, asks: Did you put on deodorant? Did you brush your teeth? Did you take your asthma medication? Usually, Allred said, she gets one yes out of the three.
It’s not that Tommy’s forgetful. “He’s really a responsible kid,” Allred said. “It’s just that when he feels great he’s not thinking about his asthma and forgets to take his medicine.” Many mornings she has to send him back upstairs to take his medication.
As Allred has found out, coping with asthma is no different from dealing with any other aspect of a teenager's life. Teens with asthma want independence but still need parental support. The key to successfully moving through this phase of your child’s life, and to keeping their asthma under control, is to work together. Remember, it may take time and practice, so be patient.
An Action Plan to Help Independent Teens With Asthma
When it comes to remembering to take asthma medication or recognizing the onset of an attack and knowing what to do, there are a number of steps you can take to transition the responsibility from you to your teen. To begin, you need to:
- Work with your teen on an asthma action plan.If you have not previously involved your child in developing a personal asthma action plan, do so now. Carefully go over asthma symptoms and warning signs.. Teens need to know what to do if they start to wheeze, cough, or feel short of breath. This gives them a sense of control, said Michael Mellon, MD, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego, and chairman of the Pediatric Asthma Task Force for the San Diego Kaiser Region.
- Let your asthmatic teen have a say.According to guidelines developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, it is very important to include your asthmatic teen’s preferences and school schedule in this plan. “The action plan will spell out the steps of treatment if asthma symptoms begin," said Dr. Mellon. "There are control questions such as, ‘Does asthma awaken you at night?’ or ‘Does asthma limit your exercise?’ that tells parents and teens if their asthma is being controlled and when they should contact the doctor to increase preventive asthma treatment.”
- Emphasize the importance of asking for help.Remind teens that they should always ask for help (instead of taking more medicine!) if symptoms do not improve despite following the action plan and taking the medication as prescribed.
- Continue to keep watch.Whatever your child’s preferences, you should still monitor your asthmatic teen’s health and medication. “Teens need a daily routine that allows them to take their preventive medication as prescribed," Mellon said. "Parents must be involved to ensure this occurs since most teens are not organized enough to take daily meds when they are feeling well, as is required in asthma treatment.”
- Schedule doctor visits.“Routine visits to the doctor for monitoring are mandatory,” said Mellon. Don’t leave it up to your teen to make those appointments.
- Fill out the necessary paperwork for medication at school.Your signature still has to be on the school forms, even as your teen takes on more responsibility for his or her asthma care.
- Be creative with reminders.With a little imagination, you can find ways to remind your asthmatic teen about things like taking medication on time without sounding like you’re nagging. For instance, pre-program a cell phone or watch with alarms that signal medication times, suggested Wayne Katon, MD, a professor and vice chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle.
RELATED: How Amanda Click Quit Smoking With Asthma
Can Texting Reminders Help Teens With Asthma?
A small pilot study presented at a meeting of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in 2011 found that reminders via daily text messages helped some patients, ages 6 to 17, remember to take their asthma controller medications. However, the study found that the text messages had more impact on younger kids and little impact on the teens with asthma. Is it worth a try?
Allred doesn’t believe a text message would help her son Tommy. “I don’t think he’d see the text and, even if he did, he’d forget about it if he didn’t do it right away,” she said.
Stanley Fineman, MD, allergy specialist and past president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, said that texting could work for some teens but not others. “I think whether texting is helpful would depend on the patient and the medication he or she is taking,” he explained.
Dr. Fineman’s practice, the Atlanta Allergy & Asthma Clinic in Marietta, Ga., has had success texting appointment reminders and daily pollen counts to its patients. “The electronic media can be a very good tool,” he said. “Whenever you can help a patient adhere to a medication regimen that has been shown to help, it’s going to be good for the patient.”
What Teens With Asthma Can Do
In addition to taking their medication, it's important for teens to avoid situations and factors that can cause an asthma attack. Depending on their specific asthma triggers, this might mean:
- Not allowing friends to smoke around them
- Limiting their time at the house of a friend who has cats
- Keeping their room clean
- Hanging up wet towels and clothes and cleaning up spills before mold can grow
- Washing clothes and bedding regularly
- Using an inhaler before working out
Teens with asthma should also learn to clean their inhalers regularly and remember that, because the devices are pressurized, they should never leave them in a hot car or close to sources of heat.
Independent Teens and Asthma
The transition to independence might be a bumpy road. Neither you nor your teen should be surprised if things don't run smoothly from the beginning. But with communication and commitment, asthmatic teens can gradually take on more responsibility for their own asthma control.
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