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Young patients with asthma need more investment in technology and health literacy

Asthma is the most common chronic disease in childhood. Today, 30 million European children and adults below the age of 45 years old have asthma and 15,000 die each year from asthma attacks. This need not be the case. With adequate treatment and adherence, symptoms can be better managed and the number of asthma attacks and asthma deaths could be reduced.

The European Federation of Allergy and Airways Diseases Patients’ Associations (EFA) has launched a new report looking at adherence to asthma treatments among young people.

Adolescent patients with asthma encounter difficulties in following their medication but the reasons are unclear; HEY YA! HEalth Literacy, Young Patients with Asthma and Adherence to treatment: EFA Report and European Recommendations is a new EFA publication based on the results of a 2015 survey that looked at the health status, asthma severity, attitude, treatment scheme, role of physicians and carers and health literacy of adolescents between 12-17 from four European countries – France, Germany, Spain and United Kingdom.

EFA Board Member Dan Murphy declared: “It is appalling that 15,000 people die each year from asthma attacks in Europe. We are urging legislators, healthcare professionals, industry and carers, to take precise actions to support teenagers to enable them to know better their disease so they can manage their condition more effectively. We are confident that existing problems with asthma in adolescence can be minimised by developing health literacy materials and tailored tools to encourage a positive attitude and consequently increase adherence and reduce asthma attacks and needless deaths”.

Thanks to the HEY YA survey, EFA has identified six reasons behind non-adherence to treatment. Although the majority of adolescents noted ‘forgetfulness’ as the most common cause impacting their adherence (24% of participants), the survey revealed other variables, also driven by attitude, might explain teenagers discipline to asthma medication. For example, the fact that many adolescents are rebelling against medical advice (22%), not taking their asthma seriously (10%) or ignoring the consequences of avoiding treatment (7%), made adolescents attitude the strongest driver of adherence in the survey. The severity of asthma also appeared to have an influence, as respondents noted they do not take their medicine when they feel better or exercise (14%). Positively, most patients consulted found their doctors’ advice to be useful, and their encouragement to deal with their asthma turned out to be another variable explaining adherence (11%).

The HEY YA report sets out four policy recommendations with specific actions to improve the health of adolescent patients with asthma:

  • Promoting multidisciplinary care coordination to better support adolescent patients and to identify those at risk.
  • Developing Health Information Technologies (ICTs) specifically addressed to young patients to stimulate self-management, medication tracking and immediate healthcare feedback.
  • Empowering young patients through shared decision-making and tailored health literacy materials to enable adolescents to take responsibility about their own health and asthma medication.
  • Conducting additional research to picture the long-term consequences associated with poor adherence in adolescence and to curve down asthma.

Asthma is one of the major non-communicable diseases worldwide and estimates foreseen its prevalence will continue to increase.