The study compares the psychometric properties of four different approaches to patient-assessed health outcomes in asthma, including the Asthma Quality of Life Questionnaire (AQLQ), Newcastle Asthma Symptoms Questionnaire (NASQ), SF-12 and EuroQol. The instruments were administered by means of a self-completed postal questionnaire to 394 patients recruited from general practices in the North East of England. Patients completed a follow-up questionnaire at 6 months. The levels of missing data were assessed and instrument scores compared using correlational analysis. Scores were related to self-reports of smoking behaviour, socioeconomic status and health transition. Responsiveness was assessed using standardized response means. Two hundred and thirty-five patients took part in the study giving a response rate of 59.6%. There was a relatively large amount of missing data for the individualized section of the AQLQ. Correlational analysis provided evidence of convergent validity between the specific instruments; the largest correlation was found between NASQ scores and the asthma symptoms scale of the AQLQ (r = 0.84). The NASQ was found to be the most powerful at discriminating between smokers and non-smokers. All four instruments were linearly related to self-reported asthma transition (P<0.05); the specific instruments having the strongest association. The specific instruments showed good levels of responsiveness with the NASQ producing a large SRM of 0.82. SRMs for the AQLQ were of a moderate to large size (0.32-0.77) and the SRMs for the SF-12 and EuroQol were of a small size. The two specific instruments are capable of greater levels of discrimination between groups of patients and are more responsive to changes in health than the generic SF-12 and EuroQol. The greater responsiveness of the NASQ is probably due to its focus being restricted to symptoms of asthma compared to the broader focus of the AQLQ domains. The NASQ has a strong relationship with the AQLQ and is a more practical instrument that is more acceptable to patients. However, the AQLQ does measure broader patient concerns. The SF-12 and EuroQol have greater potential to capture side-effects and have wider scope for application in economic evaluation.