A recent study by the Asthma UK Centre for Applied Research found that teenagers with asthma are embarrassed to use their inhalers even though they could prevent life-threatening asthma attacks.
The research analysed posts written by teenagers and their parents from Asthma UK's online forum between 2006 and 2016. This study is the first to use online forum date to explore this issue. It provides a candid insight into how a lot of teenagers feel about having asthma and in turn how this impacts on whether they take their prescribed medication.
While it is concerning that teenagers are embarrassed to use their inhalers, it's not surprising. There are 5.4 million people with asthma in the UK but despite its prevalence, it is a complex condition that remains relatively misunderstood.
A lack of understanding fuels social stigma around the condition. Indeed, one of the findings of the study is that there is a public ignorance when it comes to asthma and inhaler use. The report explains that asthma is perceived as characterising weakness or a neurotic personality. This can cause teenagers to feel embarrassed to use their inhaler because people around them don't approve.
In the 1970s and 1980s huge strides were made in the treatment and management of asthma and we saw dramatic improvements in death rates from asthma, numbers of asthma attacks, and the overall quality of life for people with asthma.
This means that sometimes people mistakenly believe asthma is no longer serious. In fact, in recent years the number of people with asthma has risen. Now, 1 in 11 people in the UK has asthma, and their chance of good outcomes have plateaued and, on some measures, have declined.
The problem of complacency around asthma is far-reaching. Not only do people who don't have asthma fail to understand it's seriousness, so do many people with the condition.
Asthma is a condition that affects your airways. But aside from this textbook definition, asthma means different things to different people. The more a person understands their asthma - how it affects them both physically and emotionally, and why - the better position they are in to manage it well.
It's important for parents to understand their child's asthma diagnosis too. Families not understanding or accepting their child has asthma was another barrier reported in the study preventing teenagers from using their inhalers.
There's plenty parents can do to support teenagers to manage their own asthma. They can remind their child 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.
We live in an age where we are surrounded by technology, where the majority of people are using some sort of device for most of their waking hours. Parents encouraging teenagers to use their phone to stay on top of their asthma is an effective way to prevent an asthma attack. Parents could suggest their child takes a photo of their written asthma action plan on their phone so they always have it with them.
The problem of complacency stretches to healthcare professionals too. In some posts, doctors were described as not always having a full knowledge of asthma. In a chain of posts from 2015, people described their frustration with doctors claiming that their chest was clear and therefore their asthma was not out of control, despite presenting other symptoms including breathlessness, frequent need of reliever inhalers and decreased peak flow (a test that measures how fast you can breathe out).
We need to be acutely aware of how children and young adults have a need to feel normal. I have seen many cases where the social stigma of having an illness or requiring medication has had a real and lasting impact on social development and psychological wellbeing.
This research shows that urgent action needs to be taken to improve awareness of asthma. It is time that this condition is taken seriously. We need to end complacency around asthma.