Blog post: Tips for supporting teenagers to manage their own asthma

“Asthma is embarrassing” teenagers tell us. And it could stop them using inhalers according to new research. Here’s how to support them.

Date: 14 June 2017

It’s a time in life when lots of teenagers start taking charge of their own lives, including their health.

But with this extra responsibility comes various asthma anxieties according to a new study by the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research at Queen Mary University of London.

Lead researcher Dr Anna De Simoni and her team analysed a decade’s worth of posts written by adolescents and their parents on Asthma UK’s online forum. And so strong were the findings that Dr De Simoni, who’s also a GP, says she’s changed the way she talks to young people in her consultations: “I now ask young people whether they feel embarrassed taking inhalers in front of people.”

How to support young people

Parents and health professionals both play an important role in supporting young people to manage their asthma well.

“We get a lot of calls from parents of teenagers,” says Sonia Munde, Head of Asthma UK’s Helpline. “They’re often worried about getting the balance right between making sure their teenager is healthy, and wanting them to take responsibility for managing their own asthma.”

We asked Dr De Simoni, our Asthma UK nurses and our in-house GP Dr Andy Whittamore for their top tips to help teenagers into long-lasting good asthma habits.

Tips for parents and carers

  • Remind your teenager how looking after their asthma benefit them. Taking their preventer medicines every day and going to asthma reviews means it’s less likely they’ll miss out on seeing friends, going to parties and playing sport. Have a chat when neither of you are rushing out the door or distracted.
  • Encourage them to use their phone to stay well. Suggest they take a photo of their written asthma action plan on their phone so they always have it with them.And put reminders on both your mobiles to prompt them to use their preventer inhaler every day. Then you won’t need to nag them to remember!
  • Set up an automated repeat prescription, then get your son or daughter to collect it. That way they’ll avoid running out of inhalers.
  • If your teenager is about to move out of home, encourage them to read our ‘Asthma and leaving home’ page. 

Tips for health professionals

  • See teenagers without their parents for their annual review if they feel ready. Update their asthma action plan with them and talk everything through.
  • Work with them to choose their own inhaler device, so that they’re comfortable using it (not embarrassed!) and it suits their lifestyle. Make sure they know how the inhalers work and when to use them.
  • Ask young people how they feel about their asthma and whether they’re facing any social issues or teasing. Use normalising statements like, ‘Some teenagers are embarrassed about taking their inhaler - are you?’
  • Ask about side effects such as weight gain or a sore throat, as the study indicated this was something young people worried about.
  • Check parents know asthma is a chronic condition that needs treatment every day. There were some cases in the study where teenagers didn’t feel supported by their parents, as they didn’t understand the impact of an asthma diagnosis.

Read Alfie, 16, and his mum Helen’s tips for managing asthma when you’re a teenager 

Read more about the Applied Centre