Background: Asthma is characterized as a chronic inflammatory process; however, there is no easily measured marker for airway inflammation. Such a marker, particularly in children, would be very helpful in the management of asthma even in the acute setting.
Objective: The purposes of this study were to determine whether asthmatic children have (1) elevation of exhaled breath nitric oxide (ENO) during acute exacerbations when presenting to the emergency room, (2) reduction of ENO following glucocorticoid treatment, or (3) improvement in spirometry and clinical examination accompanying reduction of ENO levels.
Methods: Peak ENO levels were measured by chemiluminescence during exhalation into the NO analyzer. Ten asthmatic children (mean age 10 years) who presented to the Pediatric Special Care Unit at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in acute respiratory distress with an asthma exacerbation were studied. The subjects were recruited, after informed consent was obtained from the parent, on the basis of specific inclusion/exclusion criteria. Measurements of ENO in parts per billion (ppb) and spirometry, including percentiles of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1%) and peak expiratory flow (PEF%), were performed before and after at least 5 days of glucocorticoid therapy.
Results: The mean ENO level in the asthmatic children prior to glucocorticoid treatment was 48 +/- 8ppb, and after glucocorticoid treatment the ENO level was 17 +/- 1ppb; (P < .002). Prior to glucocorticoid treatment, the mean FEV1% value was 68 +/- 3% compared with the postglucocorticoid treatment FEV1% value of 100 +/- 5%; (P < .0001). Prior to glucocorticoid treatment, the mean PEF% value was 81 +/- 7%, compared with the postglucocorticoid treatment PEF% value of 105 +/- 6%; (P < .02).
Conclusions: The mean peak ENO level after glucocorticoid therapy was significantly less than that measured before treatment in children with acute asthma exacerbations. Concomitant with the decrease in ENO levels, there was improvement in the spirometry values and physical examination in the asthmatic children; thus, ENO is a sensitive marker for response to anti-inflammatory treatment in children.