Purpose of review: Exhaled nitric oxide measurements (FENO) are easy to perform and are repeatable. Given the strong correlations between FENO and bronchial biopsy and induced sputum eosinophilia, as well as airway hyper-responsiveness, FENO may now be advocated as a surrogate for these tests in certain circumstances. They provide the opportunity to assess pathological rather than physiological changes in asthma. This review highlights recent advances in applying this technology to the diagnosis and ongoing assessment of asthma in the clinical and epidemiological settings.
Recent findings: Epidemiological data confirm that whereas FENO measurements reflect the presence and severity of airway inflammation, levels do not correlate strongly with symptoms or lung function abnormalities. Although reference values and thresholds for an abnormal test still need to be agreed internationally, there are now sufficient data for clinicians to use the test meaningfully in clinical practice. Studies confirm the relatively high diagnostic accuracy of FENO measurements compared with conventional tests to distinguish asthma from nonasthma. Further, dose-response relationships for changes in FENO with inhaled steroids have been confirmed, and provide the basis for using FENO to assess asthma control and, potentially, to determine antiinflammatory treatment requirements.
Summary: The measurement of FENO is evolving to provide a complementary role alongside existing pulmonary function tests. Further work is required to establish reference values and possibly prediction equations in relation to age and height. Its role in determining optimum steroid requirements in chronic asthma and to identify steroid responsiveness in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are two important areas for future research.