The aim of our study was to evaluate the clinical applicability of serum eosinophil cationic protein (ECP), interleukin-5 (IL-5) and total eosinophil counts in childhood asthma and bronchiolitis. These parameters were measured in 44 children aged 12-84 months with moderate and mild asthma during symptomatic and asymptomatic phases of disease. Fifteen of the patients were included at the time of admission to hospital due to an acute asthmatic attack, and ten of these were also examined one month after discharge. None of the patients were treated with glucocorticoids or cromoglycate at any time during the study. Serum ECP was significantly increased in the children with acute asthma compared to children with stable moderate asthma, stable mild asthma, as well as to controls. There was no difference between the groups with stable asthma or between stable asthma and controls, and there was large overlap between all groups of asthmatics and controls. Detectable levels of circulating IL-5 were demonstrated in eight of 15 children with acute asthma, with significantly higher levels in atopic children, whereas all samples from children with stable asthma and controls were negative. The results suggest that even though serum ECP and IL-5 increases during acute asthmatic attacks, these parameters cannot alone be used to discriminate between different groups of young children with stable asthma, nor between asthmatics and healthy controls. In addition, the same parameters of eosinophil inflammation were examined in serum samples from 25 children aged 1-17 months undergoing their first episode of acute bronchiolitis. Children with acute respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis had significantly higher levels of serum ECP than those with RSV negative disease, whereas the total eosinophil counts were significantly decreased in all patients with acute bronchiolitis. Serum IL-5 was only detected in two children with acute bronchiolitis. The results suggest that the inflammation in RSV bronchiolitis differs from that induced by other viruses.