Background: There are few controlled studies on the effects of anti-inflammatory treatment on airway inflammation in newly diagnosed childhood asthma.
Methods: Sixty children with newly diagnosed mild persistent asthma, 5-10 years of age, and 17 healthy control subjects were studied. Asthmatic children were randomized into an open study with two treatment groups: (1) budesonide 400 microg twice daily for 1 month, 200 microg twice daily for 5 months and (2) disodium cromoglycate (DSCG) 10 mg three-times daily for 6 months. All exacerbations were treated with budesonide 400 microg twice daily for 2 weeks. Symptoms and lung function were recorded throughout the study.
Results: Sputum induction was safe and the overall success rate was 71%. This improved with age and decreased after treatment. At baseline, the asthmatic children had more eosinophils in blood (0.26 vs 0.18 x 10(9)/l, P = 0.03) and sputum (1.1 vs 0.0 %, P = 0.0001) than the control subjects. The numbers of sputum eosinophils correlated with bronchial responsiveness (R = -0.58, P = 0.0002). Eosinophils were higher in children with atopic asthma than with nonatopic asthma (P < 0.0001), and in children with a history wheezing than in children without wheezing (P = 0.02). Six months of budesonide treatment, but not of DSCG, improved lung function (P = 0.007), decreased symptoms (P = 0.007) and sputum eosinophils (P = 0.003). The effects of budesonide were pronounced in children with intense sputum eosinophilia (>3%).
Conclusion: Sputum eosinophilia is present in children with newly diagnosed mild persistent asthma. Treatment with inhaled budesonide, but not with DSCG, decreases sputum eosinophils along with clinical and functional improvement.