Asthma and Adolescents

Taking an asthma inhaler is often the last thing on the mind of a teenager, even one who is coughing or wheezing regularly. Adolescents are often more concerned with their schoolwork and social life than their medication. But it's important that adolescents maintain their asthma therapy, because untreated asthma can severely affect one's ability to lead an active life. Complicating matters, teens are less apt to notice symptoms, which can include daytime sleepiness and poor athletic performance.

Dr. Nancy Ostrum, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics in the division of allergy/immunology at University of California, San Diego, says most teenagers will comply with their treatment regimens if they feel like they are a part of the decision-making process. Below, Dr. Ostrum reviews how best to successfully treat asthma in adolescents.

What is asthma?
Asthma is a condition where the breathing is restricted. We breathe through airways to get the air into our lungs, and it's the airways that are involved with asthma. The airways become inflamed or the airway lining becomes irritated. Secondarily, the airways may become constricted by the muscles that surround them.

This results in difficulty getting a good, deep breath. Other symptoms include wheezing, cough and tightness of the chest.

Is asthma a serious problem or just a nuisance?
Asthma is both a nuisance for people who aren't breathing well and a very serious problem, in that it can cause death. Asthma is a fairly common condition in the United States today, affecting 5 percent to 10 percent of the population. It generally starts sometime in childhood, but it can occur at any time of life. There are approximately 5,000 deaths a year from asthma in the United States. The good news is most of these could be prevented with appropriate identification of the condition and appropriate treatment. So although it's very serious, it's also very manageable.

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