Background: The diagnosis of asthma in young children is difficult and based on clinical assessment of symptoms and results of physical examination. Respiratory wheeze has traditionally been used to define asthma in young children.
Objective: We sought to compare the qualitative diagnosis of wheeze with a quantitative global assessment of significant troublesome lung symptoms during the first 3 years of life as a predictor of asthma by age 7 years.
Methods: Children born to asthmatic mothers (n= 411) were followed prospectively to age 7 years. Parents were instructed to visit the research clinic during the first 3 years of life each time the child had significant troublesome lung symptoms for 3 days. At the clinic, a research physician performed a physical examination, including auscultation for wheeze and excluding differential diagnoses. We tested whether wheeze was independently associated with asthma at age 7 years after adjusting for the total number of episodes.
Results: Three hundred thirteen children had full follow-up by age 7 years. In a multivariable analysis the total number of acute clinic visits for asthma symptom was significantly associated with later asthma (P< .0001), whereas the presence of wheeze at these visits was not (P= .5). The total number of acute clinic visits for significant troublesome lung symptoms was also significantly associated with later asthma in children who had never presented with any wheeze (P= .03).
Conclusion: A quantitative global assessment of significant troublesome lung symptoms in the first 3 years of life is a better predictor of asthma than assessment of wheeze. Doctor-diagnosed wheeze is not a prerequisite for the diagnosis of asthma, and relying on the symptom of wheeze will likely be an important cause of undertreatment.
Copyright © 2012 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Published by Mosby, Inc. All rights reserved.