Improving Teen Asthma and Medication Adherence
Why adolescents aren’t taking medications, and what to do about it
May 20, 2021

Medication adherence levels for individuals with asthma has always been low. On average, the World Health Organization suggests that non-adherence rates for asthma ranges from 30%-70%, and for adolescent populations, those adherence rates are often even lower. 

In this two part series on teen asthma, we’ll be discussing why adherence rates are so low in adolescent populations and the impact that better medication adherence has on improving quality of life. 

Why aren’t teens taking their asthma medications?

Approximately 8% of U.S. children and adolescents have asthma, with the condition being more prevalent among adolescents than children. Less than 50% of adolescents are adherent to their medication regimen, with school-based surveys suggesting that 29% of students do not use their reliever inhaler and 56% do not use their preventer. 

Understanding why adolescents are less inclined to take their medication is the first step in improving their adherence to prescribed care plans and ultimately improving their health outcomes. 

Reason One: I forgot! 

54% of adolescents studied reported always, often, or sometimes forgetting to take their asthma medications. While forgetting to take medication is not unique to adolescents, the rates of forgetfulness are higher among adolescent populations. 

While parents don’t want to constantly nag adolescents about taking their medications, consistent reminders are key in helping teens adhere to their prescribed asthma medications. Setting up regular phone reminders and incentives for teens to take their medication can help the teen remember to take the meds—while leaving the responsibility to do so with them. 

Reason Two: I want to fit in.

Adolescents face higher social pressure from their peers to conform. In addition, anxieties and insecurities can make teens feel uncomfortable with taking medications as prescribed—especially if that means taking their medication at school in front of others. 

Having a strong support system has been proven to help individuals with chronic conditions improve adherence to their prescribed care plans. For example, when implementing a sleep apnea CPAP regimen, individuals were first asked if they had strong support from their bedpartners about using the CPAP machine. And for Wellth members who engage regularly with our support team, medication adherence jumps from 82% to 94%. 

While there’s less that can be done about solving insecurities faced in the halls of high school, providing adolescents with additional support beyond friends and family can help strengthen medication adherence—and let them know that they aren’t alone. 

Reason Three: I don’t feel like it makes a difference.

Adolescents can harbor unique views on their medications, causing them to be distrustful of taking medications. In one study, a 14 year old girl shared, “There are moments I do not feel better from using my inhaler; those times, I use nothing.”

While medication is here to ultimately improve the health of those who use it, with some chronic condition medications, recognizing that improvement can be difficult. Tying financial incentives to medication adherence can help teens visualize the long term benefits of taking medications regularly—even if, at the time, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. 

In addition, utilizing principles of loss aversion through programs like Wellth, can help teens recognize the loss that occurs each time they miss a medication—both financially and in their long-term health and asthma control. 

Stay tuned for part two of this series—Improving Teen Asthma and Medication Adherence: Increasing Quality of Life and Asthma Control—coming next week.