Evidence for different subgroups of difficult asthma in children.
Payne DN., Wilson NM., James A., Hablas H., Agrafioti C., Bush A.
BACKGROUND: Children with difficult asthma experience frequent symptoms despite treatment with high dose inhaled steroids. Persistent symptoms may result from persistent airway inflammation which can be monitored by measuring exhaled nitric oxide (NO). This study aimed to assess the role of airway inflammation, using NO as a surrogate, in children with difficult asthma and to investigate the response to oral prednisolone. METHODS: NO was measured in 23 children (mean age 11.7 years) with difficult asthma, before and after 2 weeks of treatment with oral prednisolone. The clinical response was assessed by spirometric tests, peak flow, bronchodilator use, and symptoms. Adherence to treatment was assessed by measuring serum prednisolone and cortisol concentrations. NO was measured in 55 healthy children to establish a normal range. RESULTS: NO concentrations were higher in asthmatic patients than in controls (geometric mean 11.2 v 5.3 ppb, p<0.01). Using grouped data, the concentration of NO fell following prednisolone (11.2 v 7.5 ppb, p<0.01) accompanied by an improvement in morning peak flow (p<0.05). The baseline NO concentration was raised (>12.5 ppb) in nine asthmatic patients and remained high after prednisolone in five. Thirteen had normal levels of NO (<12.5 ppb) before and after prednisolone. Thirteen asthmatic patients remained symptomatic following prednisolone; NO levels were raised on both occasions in five of these and were normal in seven. CONCLUSIONS: As a group, the asthmatic subjects demonstrated evidence of airway inflammation which responded to prednisolone. At least two subgroups of patients were identified: one with persistently raised NO levels despite treatment with oral prednisolone indicating ongoing steroid insensitive inflammation, and another with normal levels of NO. Both subgroups included patients with persistent symptoms, which suggests that different patterns of difficult asthma in children exist.