The relation between silent gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and respiratory problems such as persistent wheezing in infants is not well-established. Between January 1994 and June 1997, we evaluated the incidence of GER in 84 otherwise healthy infants referred to the Pediatric Pulmonary Medicine Division at Kosair Children's Hospital for evaluation of daily wheezing, and we followed their clinical course for 18 months. All underwent 24-hr esophageal pH studies to evaluate GER. The pH probe study was performed at a mean age of 8.74 +/- 4.6 months. Infants with a positive GER study were treated with an H2 receptor antagonist (H2RA) and a prokinetic agent for a mean of 5.6 +/- 2.4 months. At first follow-up visit 3 weeks after esophageal pH studies infants treated with an H2RA and those who did not have GER but continued with daily wheezing were started on flunisolide nasal solution (0.025%) delivered by nebulizer (125 mcg t.i.d.). Infants in both groups were followed every 1-2 months for a mean of 18 months and if clinically improved, attempts to decrease their daily asthma medications were made. Fifty-four of 84 (64%) had positive esophageal pH studies (GER-positive group), and 24 of them (44%) had no gastrointestinal symptoms suggestive of GER. Thirty patients had normal esophageal pH studies (GER-negative group). Twenty-two of these 30 (73%) infants without GER required nebulized flunisolide, compared to 13 of 54 (24%) infants with GER (P < 0.0005). Thirty-five of 54 (64.8%) infants with GER were able to discontinue all daily asthma medications within 3 months of starting antireflux therapy, while none of the infants without GER were able to discontinue daily asthma medications during the follow-up period (P < 0.0005). We conclude that silent GER is common in infants with daily wheezing, and controlling GER improves morbidity and decreases the need for daily asthma medications.