Pediatric Asthma: Eliminating Barriers to Medication Compliance

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Children represent a huge population of asthmatics in the United States with as many as 7.1 million kids dealing with the chronic condition. Accounting for as many as 14 million missed days of school, 640,000 emergency room visits and almost 200 deaths. Asthma is nothing to ignore.

Sadly, many children are not getting the right treatment for their asthma or they are non-compliant with the medication instructions. In one study of Canadian children who visited the ER due to an asthma flare, over 40 percent were not on a maintenance medication for their asthma. Instead these patients relied on rescue inhalers or the ER to treat their symptoms. As most doctors will tell you, this is NOT the best way to treat asthma.

Since the proper treatment of pediatric asthma is essential for a good quality of life, why are so many parents allowing children go untreated or poorly treated? I truly believe most parents really want what is best for their kids.

The following factors may play a role in why this issue occurs:

Lack of understanding about how serious asthma can be.

In addition to the ER visits and missed school days, almost 200 children under the age of 15 die every year from the complications of asthma. Even if you don't have severe asthma, it can still be causing underlying lung damage and damage to your child's overall health. Lack of sleep, poor concentration, fatigue and frequent illnesses can all be contributed to poorly treated asthma. Properly treating your child's asthma is absolutely necessary.

Hard time getting in to see the doctor in a timely manner.

Sometimes patients end up in the ER because they have a hard time making appointments to see their child's pediatrician. Frequent rechecks are often needed to keep your child's medications up to date and get the prescriptions refilled. If getting in to see the doctor is tough it can discourage parents from making those all important visits. In this case it may be wise to seek out a different physician or, if the specialist is the problem, check to see if your pediatrician can take over some of those basic rechecks to eliminate the time restraints and scheduling issues.

Inability to afford the child's asthma medications.

The cost of asthma medication is outrageous. Trust me, I feel your pain I have two children with asthma and my husband is also an asthmatic. (Two inhalers per asthmatic times three people equals... me freaking out).

Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to save money on your child's asthma medications:

  • Look into your insurance plan rules. In ours, for example, if you order your medications through the insurance company's pharmacy instead of a local pharmacy you can save quite a bit per prescription.

  • Price check your medications with various pharmacies to be sure you are getting the best price. The prices can vary dramatically.

  • Check online with the manufacturer of your child's medication. Many will have printable coupons that can save you as much as your entire co-pay.

  • Ask your child's pediatrician if there is a cheaper medication that could still do the job. Sometimes they like to prescribe the newest, which usually means most expensive, when there are other medications that would work just as well.

  • Ask for samples. We had one year where we had a rough time affording the girls' asthma medications. Our amazing pediatrician gave me five full-sized rescue inhalers that he had as samples.

  • If you're still having problems, you may want to consider cutting costs somewhere else. For example, if you have coffee out every morning switching to brewing your cup of joe at home can save you up to $200 a month to apply toward medications.

Confusion about asthma medications and how they work.

Many people don't seem to understand how asthma medications work or how they should be used. A rescue inhaler like albuterol is a fast-acting inhaled steroid and is meant to be used to treat an actual attack. It is not meant to be a stand alone treatment in the asthma arsenal. If your child has to use their rescue inhaler more than once a week, it's time to talk with their pediatrician about how to better control their asthma.

That is where the maintenance or preventative medications for asthma come in. These are the medications that are used on a daily basis to prevent attacks and keep asthma under control. Maintenance medications are longer-acting inhaled steroids that work to reduce the inflammation in the lungs so they are less likely to react. Both medications are equally important in providing your child with proper asthma control.

Hopefully some of these tips will make it easier for you to get your child's asthma under control and adhere to the medications the pediatrician recommends. It is of utmost importance to your child's health and can be life-saving.

Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition. She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years. Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.