Clinical Review

Barriers to Self-Management in African American Adolescents with Asthma



Knowledge and Skills

Adequate knowledge of the elements of asthma self-management is critical for achieving control of this condition. Asthma knowledge includes a basic understanding of the disease process and treatment strategies, an awareness of early signs and symptoms of worsening asthma, and an understanding of how to manage environmental triggers.4,5 Sin and colleagues conducted one of the earlier studies to examine the influence of asthma knowledge on asthma self-management in African American adolescents and found a significant positive association between knowledge and asthma self-management behaviors.12

Adherence to an asthma medication, especially inhaled corticosteroids (ICS), is one of the cornerstones to successful self-management of asthma.13,14 Consistent use of ICS therapy to control asthma symptoms and disease progression is often suboptimal in African American adolescents and tends to worsen as they age;15 studies have found lower adherence levels were more prominent in older African American adolescents and males.13,16 In a recent study of adolescents with persistent asthma who were prescribed daily ICS, youth with greater ICS knowledge as assessed using a standardized instrument demonstrated significantly higher adherence rates.13 Proper technique in the use of an inhaler is also important in medication administration. Asthma ICS medication delivery devices vary significantly and require different techniques for medication administration. However, inhaler device skills have been found to be very inadequate in high-risk African American adolescents.17 Thus, knowledge related to ICS therapy and proper skills in the use of inhaler devices is an important aspect of asthma self-management that have been found to be inadequate in African American Adolescents.

Interventions and programs geared to improving education may lead to improved self-management. Multisystemic Therapy-Health Care (MST-HC) is a tailored home-based intervention that includes knowledge and skill-building components. In a study of African American youth with poorly controlled asthma, the program was found to improve illness management.18 In addition, adolescents who complete formal asthma education programs demonstrate significantly higher scores in self-management than those youth who do not participate in these programs.13,19 Unfortunately, few African American teens report participation in an asthma education program.19 In a study of a motivational interviewing intervention to improve controller medication adherence for African American adolescents,14 youth reported gaining more knowledge about their asthma medications and were significantly more motivated to take their controller medications after participating in the intervention; however, while adherence to controller medications was greater than baseline, it was not significantly different.14 This study demonstrated the value of asthma education and the feasibility of a motivational intervention to support controller medication adherence. However, this study also demonstrated the complexity of medication adherence in that neither knowledge or motivation led to significant changes in medication adherence among African American adolescents.

Low health literacy can also act as a barrier to asthma self-management. Health literacy requires skills and knowledge that enable an individual to communicate, process, and understand basic health information that informs health decisions.20 Health literacy was found to be associated with indicators of poor disease self-management among urban African American adolescents in grades 9 through 12.21 In this study, health literacy was established using questions about confidence in filling out medical forms, self-reported problems with learning about the youth’s medical condition, and the need for assistance in reading hospital materials. Adolescents with poor health literacy scores were more likely to reside in a household with the following characteristics: mother with less than a high school education, Medicaid health insurance, family members with a body mass index exceeding the 85th percentile, and lack of rescue medication. Poor health literacy was most common among younger adolescents (ie, ninth graders). Some youth with poor health literacy also reported more emergency department visits, hospitalizations, and lower overall quality of life.21

Beliefs and Attitudes

Beliefs and attitudes towards taking asthma medications can act as barriers to adherence in the adolescent. African American adolescents often report the belief that ICS are not helpful or necessary.16,22-25 These beliefs have been correlated with a lack of understanding of the inflammatory mechanisms of asthma, reports of asthma attacks despite use of controller medications, fear of addiction to medications, and a belief that nontraditional interventions (eg, exercise) will work better to get rid of asthma or abate symptoms.16-19,22-24 African American adolescents also report beliefs that asthma will go away or get better as they age, and they are willing to forgo the use of controller medications based on these beliefs.24

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