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Social stigma often stops adolescents from using inhalers for asthma

Study finds forgetfulness, poor routines and failure to understand asthma as a condition are main catalysts behind adolescents not using their inhalers. 

Forgetfulness, poor routines, inadequate inhaler technique, organisational difficulties such as repeat prescriptions, and families not understanding or accepting their child had asthma are some of the barriers to adolescents with asthma not using inhalers.

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A study carried out by Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research analysed posts written by teenagers and their parents from Asthma UK’s online forum between 2006 and 2016. A total of 54 forum participants, (39 adolescents ≥16 years, 5 parents of adolescents, 10 adults with asthma) were studied.   

It found that the social stigma of asthma can play a role in teenagers choosing not to use their inhalers.

Through the forum, teenagers often talked about feeling embarrassed with their diagnosis and having to use inhalers. Some said that people around them had negative reactions to their condition, which could lead to mocking and social exclusion.

Several reasons were given as barriers to using their inhalers, including:

  • Asthma being portrayed on TV and in films as an emotional problem experienced by anxious people.
  • Dislike of being labelled with a chronic illness.
  • Shape of some inhalers ‘resemble sex toys’.
  • Concerns about side effects, such as weight gain and spots.
  • Lack of routine.

It was concluded that the social stigma of asthma and its role in adherence are prominent and continue to be underestimated, warranting further research and action to improve public awareness of asthma.

Simoni A, Horne R, Fleming L et al (2017) What do adolescents with asthma really think about adherence to inhalers? Insights from a qualitative analysis of a UK online forum. BMJ Open. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2016-015245

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