Impaired perception of dyspnea in patients with severe asthma. Relation to sputum eosinophils

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 1998 Oct;158(4):1134-41. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.158.4.9710087.


Poor dyspnea perception might be a risk factor for developing asthma exacerbations. We investigated whether severe asthmatics with recurrent exacerbations (brittle asthma) have different dyspnea perception and sputum cells compared with equally severe, but stable asthmatics, or patients with mild steroid-naive asthma. Fifteen brittle asthmatics (13 female, median age 28 yr [range, 20 to 47 yr]), 15 matched severe-stable asthmatics (14 female, median age 26 yr [range, 17 to 52 yr]), and 11 mild asthmatics (8 female, median age 25 yr [range, 19 to 43 yr]) underwent inhalation tests with methacholine (MCh), and hypertonic saline combined with sputum induction. Dyspnea was assessed by Borg and Visual Analogue Scale (VAS), plotted against the percent fall in FEV1, and expressed as the slope of the regression line (Slope-Borg and Slope-VAS). The brittle and stable asthmatics had poorer perception than patients with mild asthma (Slope-Borg [p = 0.036], Slope-VAS [p < 0.001] for MCh). In patients with brittle asthma the perception was less as compared with severe-stable asthma (Slope-Borg for MCh: p = 0.05). In the severe asthmatics there was an inverse correlation between sputum eosinophilia and Slope-Borg and Slope-VAS (R = -0.55, p = 0. 002 and R = -0.37, p = 0.049), whereas this correlation was a positive one in the mild asthmatics (R = 0.79, p = 0.012 and R = 0. 67, p = 0.05). In conclusion, patients with severe asthma, particularly those with recurrent exacerbations, have blunted perception of dyspnea, which is related to the degree of sputum eosinophilia. This suggests that increased sputum eosinophilia is an indicator of clinical instabililty, and that eosinophilic airways inflammation might affect dyspnea perception in severe asthma.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Asthma / pathology
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Bronchial Provocation Tests
  • Bronchoconstrictor Agents
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Dyspnea / physiopathology*
  • Eosinophilia / pathology
  • Eosinophilia / physiopathology
  • Eosinophils / pathology*
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / drug effects
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Methacholine Chloride
  • Middle Aged
  • Perception / physiology*
  • Recurrence
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic
  • Sputum / cytology*
  • Status Asthmaticus / pathology
  • Status Asthmaticus / physiopathology


  • Bronchoconstrictor Agents
  • Saline Solution, Hypertonic
  • Methacholine Chloride