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Asthma Center

Asthma and Teens

The teen years can be a rough time, especially for teens with asthma. The last thing they want their friends to know is that they’re “different.”

These tips can make parenting a teen with asthma a bit easier:

  • Many teens don’t want to take medicine in front of their friends, so ask your doctor if your teen’s quick-relief medicine (also called rescue or fast-acting medicine) can be taken at home in the morning and evening. This can make taking asthma medicine part of a morning or nighttime routine, just like brushing teeth or showering. It also lets parents make sure their teens get all the medication they need.
  • Many kids with asthma, especially teens, stop taking their long-term control medicines (also called controller or maintenance medicines) and rely only on their quick-relief medicines. Long-term control medicines work quietly in the background to control airway inflammation without the person actually feeling any immediate effects, so their benefits might go unnoticed. Not taking long-term control medicines when needed can be dangerous and even fatal. If this becomes a concern, discuss it with your doctor immediately.
  • It’s very common for teens to be in denial about having asthma, and they may stop taking medicines, which can lead to more symptoms and flare-ups. If this happens, you may need to monitor your teen’s care until he or she is ready to do it alone. Some parents find it helpful to use a peak flow meter (a handheld tool that can be used at home to measure breathing ability) as the final word on whether (and how much) medicine is needed to prevent a flare-up.

    When peak flow readings drop, it’s a sign of increasing airway inflammation. The peak flow meter can detect subtle airway inflammation and obstruction, even when someone feels fine. In some cases, it can detect drops in peak flow readings 2 to 3 days before a flare-up occurs, providing plenty of time to treat and prevent it.

    Peak flow meters don’t lie, so teens can’t deny they’re having a problem — and parents are less likely to be seen as bad guys or overprotective, forcing their kids to take medication unnecessarily.

  • Remember to maintain your teen’s dignity and involvement when dealing with asthma. Older kids should be actively included in all discussions and treatment choices because they’re the ones who have to take the medicine regularly and deal with possible side effects.
  • Uncontrolled asthma can lead to depression and low self-esteem. These feelings may show up as emotional outbursts or poor school performance. Getting help from a school counselor, teacher, or doctor can encourage your teen to stick with the treatment plan and keep the asthma under control.
  • Teens with asthma should be encouraged to live as normal a life as possible with the help of medicines and thoughtful limitations. Some teens tend to shy away from normal activities (such as sports and school dances) because they’re afraid of having a flare-up. Others try to use asthma as an excuse to get out of activities and chores. Teens should understand that following the asthma action plan will let them do just about anything.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014