The prevalence of asthma in children and young adults is rising. Although the general features of asthma are similar in children and adults, there are several differences. Studies of the differences between childhood- and adult-onset asthma may provide new insight into the phenotypic heterogeneity of asthma. The aim of this cross-sectional study was to compare the characteristics of asthmatic adults who reported having (n = 84) or not having (n = 235) asthma in childhood. The participating patients were recruited by chest specialists throughout France and were examined from March to November 1995. The specialists completed a standardized questionnaire, and carried out a clinical examination and spirometric tests. Male sex; greater severity, particularly lower spirometry values related to small airways; greater severity and earlier onset of allergy; and maternal history of atopic dermatitis and perennial rhinitis were found to be associated with reported childhood asthma. This study exhibits highly internally consistent results and indicates that subjects who did have childhood asthma and relapse in adulthood appeared to have a potentially more severe form of asthma.