There are countless clinical respiratory scales for acute dyspnoea. Most healthcare professionals choose one based on previous personal experience or following local practice, unaware of the implications of their choice. The lack of critical comparisons between those different tools has been a widespread problem that only recently has begun to be addressed via score validation studies. Here we try to assess and compare the quality criteria of measurement properties of acute dyspnoea scores. Areas covered: A literature review was conducted by searching the PubMed database. Forty-five documents were deemed eligible as they reported the use or building of clinical scales, using at least two parameters, and applied these to an acute episode of respiratory dyspnoea. Our primary focus was the description of the validity, reliability and utility of 41 suitable scoring instruments. Differences in sample selection, study design, rater profiles and potential methodological shortcomings were also addressed. Expert commentary: All acute dyspnoea scores lack complete validation. In particular, the areas of measurement error and interpretability have not been addressed correctly by any of the tools reviewed. Frequent modification of pre-existing scores (in items composition and/or name), differences in study design and discrepancies in reviewed sources also hinder the search for an adequate tool.
Keywords: Asthma; bronchiolitis; dyspnoea score; respiratory distress; respiratory scale; review; validation; wheezing.