Purpose of review: To present three clinically important developments related to the utilization of pulmonary function to objectively assess the asthmatic child.
Recent findings: The new asthma guidelines (2007) have added the forced expiratory volume in 1 s/forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC) ratio to the FEV1 as spirometric criteria for classifying asthma. Although a better indicator of airway obstruction, it has not clearly been shown to correlate with clinical criteria. The normal cut point for the ratio used in the guidelines of 85% for children may be too high, and compared to the lower limits of normal of 80%, could result in unnecessary treatment in some children. The bronchodilator response (BDR) phenotype reflects airway lability and has been associated with biomarkers of inflammation and responsiveness to inhaled corticosteroids as well as predicting long-term outcomes. Several studies have shown improved spirometric techniques in preschoolers as well as defining normal values in this age group. Impulse oscillometry (IOS), which is less demanding than spirometry, has been shown to identify asthmatic preschoolers in some cases better than spirometry and possibly identifying obstruction in the peripheral airways. It may also be a more useful test than spirometry in evaluating long-term drug studies.
Summary: In addition to the FEV1/FVC ratio to detect airway obstruction, the BDR phenotype would appear to give important additional information regarding airway lability and inflammation, and should be included as routine spirometry. IOS is a promising test to identify asthmatic preschoolers, but more studies are needed to determine exactly what it measures and what constitutes normal values.