Purpose of review: Asthma is a phenotypically heterogeneous disorder and, over the years, many different clinical subtypes of asthma have been described. A precise definition of asthma phenotypes is now becoming more and more important, not only for a better understanding of pathophysiologic mechanisms, but in particular to ascertain the specific genes associated with these phenotypes.
Recent findings: In children, three asthma phenotypes are now well defined: transient infant wheezing, nonatopic wheezing of the toddler, and IgE-mediated wheezing/asthma. Recently, a fourth phenotype, late-onset childhood asthma has been added to this list. In adults, asthma persisting from childhood into adulthood should be distinguished from asthma starting in adulthood. The phenotypes of adult-onset asthma are still poorly defined. Until now, phenotypic classification has been based primarily on etiologic factors (eg, aspirin sensitivity, persistent respiratory infections, occupational factors, or toxic exposures) or clinical characteristics of the disease (eg, mild, severe, brittle, near fatal, with fixed airflow obstruction, steroid resistant). Novel noninvasive techniques to assess the type and severity of airway inflammation and dysfunction are increasingly used to identify better the different phenotypes.
Summary: The classic phenotype of IgE-mediated asthma starting in childhood is now clearly defined. However, many other phenotypes of asthma in childhood as well in adulthood are being recognized. In particular, asthma starting in adulthood and noneosinophilic asthma constitute an important part of the adult asthma population, and are still poorly defined. A precise definition of these asthma phenotypes is urgently needed because they are likely to be associated with different genotypes, responses to treatment, and prognoses.