Few studies have been published on gas distribution in the lung during acute and stable airway obstruction in children. Multiple breath nitrogen (N(2)) washout is an established method for assessing ventilation inhomogeneity, while the tidal breathing capnogram may be used as an indicator of ventilation-perfusion (V(')(A)/Q) mismatch. We hypothesized that significant V(')(A)/Q mismatch is not seen in stable airway obstruction unless obstruction is severe, and that stable and induced airway obstruction of similar severity would result in different degrees of V(')(A)/Q mismatch. To test this hypothesis, we performed spirometry measurements of forced expiratory volume in 1 sec (FEV(1)), multiple breath N(2) washout, and tidal breathing capnography in 11 young patients (9-30 years) with cystic fibrosis, 37 asthmatic patients (8-18 years), and 34 healthy subjects (7-20 years). Lung function was measured at rest, after airway obstruction induced by cold dry air hyperventilation or methacholine challenge, and after beta(2)-agonist treatment. V(')(A)/Q mismatch was assessed from the slopes of the phases II and III of the capnogram. We observed a normal capnogram during stable obstruction of moderate severity despite significant ventilation inhomogeneity. In patients with severe stable obstruction and in those with induced airway obstruction significant ventilation inhomogeneity and pathological capnograms were seen. Induced airway obstruction, resulted in a more pathological capnogram than stable obstruction of similar severity. beta(2)-agonist treatment reduced ventilation inhomogeneity, but did not improve the capnogram. Our findings are compatible with the presence of an efficient pulmonary blood flow regulatory mechanism that adequately compensates for chronic ventilation inhomogeneity of moderate severity, but not for severe or sudden airway obstruction.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.