Clinical assessment of asthma severity partially corresponds to sputum eosinophilic airway inflammation

Respir Med. 2004 Feb;98(2):184-93. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2003.09.012.


In the aim to evaluate the relationship between sputum eosinophil percentages and eosinophil cationic protein (ECP) concentrations, as markers of airway inflammation, and different Levels of asthma severity, we examined 223 patients consecutively observed in our asthma clinic. Diagnosis of asthma was made according to internationally accepted criteria. Asthma severity was evaluated according to frequency of symptoms, FEV1, peak expiratory flow variability and level of asthma treatment needed to control asthma. Spontaneous or induced sputum was collected. Adequate sputum samples were obtained in 68 untreated subjects and in 117 subjects regularly treated with ICS. A control group of 14 normal subjects was also examined. In untreated subjects, mild intermittent asthmatics showed a lower sputum eosinophil percentage in comparison with other groups of asthma severity, while no difference in ECP levels was detected. In treated subjects, severe asthmatics showed higher levels of sputum eosinophils and ECP in comparison with other groups of asthma severity. Mild persistent and moderate persistent patients did not differ for sputum eosinophils or ECP in both untreated and treated subjects. Controls were significantly different from all groups of untreated and treated asthmatics. In conclusion, the assessment of asthma severity according to clinical and functional findings only partially corresponds to the severity of eosinophilic airway inflammation as assessed by induced sputum analysis.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / metabolism
  • Asthma / pathology*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism
  • Bronchitis / metabolism
  • Bronchitis / pathology*
  • Bronchitis / physiopathology
  • Eosinophil Granule Proteins
  • Eosinophils / pathology*
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ribonucleases / metabolism
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sputum / cytology*


  • Blood Proteins
  • Eosinophil Granule Proteins
  • Ribonucleases