Clinical Review

Barriers to Self-Management in African American Adolescents with Asthma



From Wayne State University, Detroit, MI (Dr. Gibson-Scipio), and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg, TX (Dr. Krouse).


  • Objective: To review the literature on barriers to asthma self-management among African American adolescents.
  • Methods: Review of the literature.
  • Results: Asthma self-management barriers experienced by African American adolescents are often related to developmental needs, lack of knowledge, and personal perspectives and experiences. Adolescents find managing their symptoms and adhering to prescriptive therapies a burden and desire to be more like healthy peers. As they struggle to identify with peers, they may engage in risky behaviors such as ignoring symptoms and delaying treatment, thus leading to poorer asthma control and health outcomes. African American adolescents struggle with perceptions of racial biases from health care providers and teachers that interfere with self-management behaviors. They also describe the influence of culturally based practices learned from caregivers that contribute to their misconceptions and inadequate skills in effectively managing their asthma.
  • Conclusion: Researchers should seek to develop interventions to address the unique contextual and culturally based needs of African American adolescents that support the development of effective asthma self-management behaviors. This may include making use of family members (especially mothers) and extended support for self-management during this period of rapid growth and transition. Health care providers should consider a team-based approach to the adolescent patient. Such an approach should be grounded in recommendations from national guidelines that suggest a patient-centered approach to care that includes a partnership between the patient and the provider to address unique barriers to effective self-management.

Keywords: youth; caregiver; drug-therapy; self-efficacy; disease-management; patient-centered care.

Effective asthma self-management by urban African American adolescents is a critical aspect of care that should be addressed with vigilance due to the persistent disparities in disease prevalence, morbidity, and mortality compared to Caucasians.1-3 The overarching goal of asthma self-management is to achieve symptom control, maintain normal activity levels, and minimize future risk of exacerbations and medication side effects.4,5 Best practices for asthma self-management begin with a partnership between health care providers and clients (including parent/caregiver). This relationship should help affected individuals gain asthma control based on knowledge of their disease and treatment options, confidence and skills in trigger avoidance, medication administration, and management of acute exacerbations.4,5

Among youth aged 18 years and younger, African Americans have the highest asthma prevalence rates of all racial and ethnic groups, and between 2001 and 2009 asthma prevalence rates rose by 50% among African American youth.6 As of 2015, prevalence rates for asthma among African American youth were 13.4%, as compared to 7.4% for white youth.7 African American youth have been found to have more frequent asthma exacerbations and related school absences than white youth.8 Furthermore, African American youth younger than 18 years are more likely to be admitted to the hospital for asthma and are 10 times more likely to die from asthma compared to non-Hispanic white children.6

Urban African American adolescents with asthma are particularly vulnerable to poor asthma self-management due to the complexity of the disease in this population.3 African American youth must deal with multiple adverse environmental conditions, lack of knowledge or disbelief concerning effective disease self-management strategies, variable access and quality of care, and the psychosocial dynamics of being young while having a chronic disease.2,3,9-11 It is important to understand and address barriers to successful asthma self-management during adolescence, as behaviors developed during this stage of life often persist into adulthood.9 In this article, we review the literature on barriers to asthma self-management among African American adolescents and offer suggestions on clinical strategies for improving self-management in this vulnerable population.


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