Kids Take Responsibility for Asthma Medication at Early Age

Many children with asthma start taking their daily medication on their own at an early age, a new study finds.

The findings suggest that even young children should be included when doctors and parents discuss asthma management, researchers report in the journal Pediatrics.

In surveys of 351 parents of asthmatic children and teenagers, the researchers found that by the age of 7, children were giving themselves their daily controller medication nearly 20 percent of the time. By age 11, they were responsible for taking their medication about half of the time.

Daily controller medication refers to the drugs, such as inhaled corticosteroids, that asthma patients take to reduce airway inflammation and prevent attacks of breathlessness and wheezing.

Taking the medications as directed is crucial to controlling persistent asthma, but there has been little research into how parents delegate that job to their children over time.

The current findings suggest that a "considerable number" of children start taking some responsibility for their own medication at an early age, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Joan K. Orrell-Valente of the University of California, San Francisco.

There are no general guidelines as to what age children should be given this task, said Orrell-Valente, and instead the decision depends on an individual child's readiness.

Parents, she told Reuters Health, can help prepare their children for more responsibility by, for example, "verbally coaching" them as they take their medication or by demonstrating how to do it.

And they should bring their children, even young children, to any medical visits where they learn about asthma management and proper medication use, according to Orrell-Valente and her colleagues.

When it comes time to decide whether to delegate some medication responsibilities, Orrell-Valente said, parents should carefully consider their child's ability to manage the task. She added that they should also discuss the issue with their doctor, who can help assess the child's readiness.

"The child's doctor should play a big part in this," Orrell-Valente said.

Better education on using daily controller medication might help kids comply with their treatment. In the current study, older children were less likely than younger ones to adhere to their daily drug regimen — not surprising, according to the researchers, since parents were more involved in younger children's medication routine.

That finding, Orrell-Valente noted, is in line with other research showing that medication compliance tends to be high in early childhood, then "dips dramatically" during adolescence and young adulthood before going back up again as the patient gets older.