The asthma talk teens need before they leave for college

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When teens have asthma, the "sex talk" isn't the only tough discussion parents should make sure kids get before heading off to college.

The teen years are a good time for parents to start encouraging children to talk with doctors about managing their health, particularly as questions arise about how to live with chronic conditions like asthma, Dr. David Stukus and colleagues argue in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

"Teenagers are learning about their bodies and health from a variety of sources, and most of them are not the most reliable - this includes their peers, internet searches, or what they may encounter through media and television or movies," Stukus, a researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital and Ohio State University in Columbus, said by email.

Doctors who care for teens understand they may have many questions they hesitate to ask - especially when asthma questions are really about how symptoms might be impacted by sex, drugs or alcohol, Stukus said.

For these conversations to happen, though, parents may need to get out of the way, stay out of the exam room and let teens have frank discussions alone with their health care providers, Stukus said.

"Not letting the teen drive the conversation, or offering to discuss without a parent present, risks that these conversations will never occur and ultimately lead to the teenager making ill-informed and misguided decisions that may adversely affect their health," Stukus added.

Among other things, teens need to know that cigarettes, hookah and marijuana can all trigger asthma attacks, Stukus and colleagues note in their article.

Outdoor allergens, heat and humidity can also be dangerous to asthma patients.

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Teens need to know how to assess their dorm room or other living space for a range of other triggers such as cockroaches, rodents, scented candles, essential oils, incense, aerosol sprays, perfumes, cologne or pets.

Failing to take controller medication is also a common problem among teens and they need to understand the necessity of keeping this up even once they live away from home, the authors note. It's also risky for adolescents to leave home without rescue medications, such as albuterol.

Parents can do a lot to help teens with asthma prepare for college by getting them organized to stay on top of their medications before they move away, said Dr. Avni Joshi, an allergist and immunologist at the Mayo Clinic Children's Center in Rochester, Minnesota, who wasn't involved in the article.

If a child takes pills, parents should invest in pill boxes as reminder tools for weekly medication refills to help teens get in the habit of managing these medications, Joshi said by email.

With inhalers, the child should use it alone while the parent checks the dosage counter to make sure the correct amount came out.

"If they initiate this process at 16, then they will not have any difficulty by the time they are 18, as the parents have already had a trial run of being independent even though the child is still at home with the parent available to cross check for compliance," Joshi said.

"The biggest mistake is to underestimate their disease and health care needs," Joshi added. "Foresight is still evolving as the brain is still maturing into age 25, and hence they need guidance on how to plan ahead."