We studied the spontaneous, uninstructed description by 40 health care professionals of breath sounds in asthmatic patients, and their use of lung sound terminology following current recommendations. Tape play-back auscultation of recorded tracheal and lung sounds was performed by ten observers in each group of residents, nurses, staff physicians and physiotherapists. They repeated the test after two weeks to three months. Individual descriptions were compared to computer-aided characterization of the breath sound recordings. We found significant differences in the preferred terms for description of adventitious lung sounds between the groups of health care professionals. There was considerable intraobserver variability, with less agreement when suggestions for a more complex characterization were followed. Our observations indicate the importance of teaching a standardized nomenclature for lung sounds to health care professionals, using only terms which are clearly informative of pulmonary disease.