9 questions teens with asthma want to ask

Pharmacy school researchers find they do better if doctors engage with them

Teenagers with asthma have questions about their condition, but they rarely voice them in a consultation, a US study shows.

teen with asthma

Immediately before a consultation, the researchers gave each of 185 adolescents (aged 11-17) with persistent asthma a list of 22 questions they might want to ask their doctor. 

They were asked to tick the ones they wanted answered and were also encouraged to add their own questions to the list.

Here are their top questions:

  1. How severe is my asthma?
  2. What causes my asthma?
  3. How can I make my asthma better?
  4. Should I always carry my asthma medicine with me?
  5. Is it OK to take my asthma medicine with my other medicines?
  6. How long do I hold my breath after I inhale my medicine?
  7. Should I use my asthma medicine before I play or exercise?
  8. Why do I hold my breath after I inhale my medicine?
  9. What medicine do I use when my chest is tight or when I wheeze or cough?

The researchers, from the University of North Carolina Eshelman School of Pharmacy, then recorded the consultations to determine how many of the young patients actually asked their questions while seeing the doctor.

But when they went into the consultation, only a minority of the teenagers went ahead and popped the question.

For example, only one in five asked how severe their asthma was, and a similar proportion asked how long to hold their breath after inhaling medicine.

And not one of the 6.5% of adolescents who wanted the doctor to show them how to use their inhaler properly dared voice their request. 

"As teens grow up and become more independent, it becomes more and more important that they can manage their asthma on their own, without relying on their parents," said co-author Dr Scott Davis (PhD).

If they could become more confident in asking their doctors the questions they have, they may be more likely to learn the skills they need to control their asthma, he added.

It is second nature for clinicians to direct conversation to the adult carer, especially if there's a longstanding relationship between the provider and carer, according to Dr Tamara Perry of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Dr Perry, who wasn't involved with this study, researched how teens use smartphone apps for self-management of their asthma.

"As children grow up, clinicians and caregivers have to be intentional and remain mindful that adolescents don't always feel empowered to ask questions," she said.

"It's up to us to help them engage in their care by bringing them into the conversation."

More information: Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: In Practice 2019.