To determine if there are differences in the nitric oxide metabolites (nitrites) in sputum of patients with persistent asthma and healthy schoolchildren, we performed a case-control study in a tertiary care hospital in Arequipa, Perú. Nitrites in induced sputum samples were measured using the Griess assay in 30 persistent asthmatics (mean age of 10.1 yr) and 30 controls (mean age of 11.9 yr). The mean +/- s.d. of nitrites among asthmatics was significantly higher than the controls (16.30 +/- 8.6 vs. 10.25 +/- 4.68 nmol/ml, respectively, p = 0.001). Moreover, the nitrite level in the sputum in children with severe persistent asthma was higher than in the level found in the moderate and mild asthmatics (32.83 +/- 9.48 vs. 18.10 +/- 1.96 vs. 11.84 +/- 4.73 nmol/ml, respectively, p < 0.01 for linear trend). This study showed for the first time in children that asthmatics have significantly higher levels of nitrites in induced sputum than healthy controls and that the level of nitrite correlates with the severity of the asthma. Nitrite levels in sputum, a simple and cheap, non-invasive method, may be a good alternative to measure the severity of inflammation in asthmatic children.