Background A significant proportion of patients diagnosed with cough-variant asthma eventually manifest classic asthma signs, such as wheezing and dyspnoea. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the percentage of eosinophils and/or concentration of eosinophilic cationic protein (ECP) in sputum induced from patients with cough-variant asthma can predict the development of classic asthma.
Methods Sixty-two children with cough-variant asthma were prospectively studied for 4 years. At the initiation of the study, sputum was induced with hypertonic saline, and the sputum samples were analysed for total and differential cell counts, and for ECP. Each subject was checked clinically at least every 3 months, and details of classic asthma signs experienced during the intervening periods were taken.
Results Twenty-four (47.1%) of the 51 subjects available for follow-up developed signs of classic asthma, while 27 did not. The only significant difference in the sputum parameters between these two groups was a higher percentage of sputum eosinophils in subjects who developed classic asthma. A significant association was found between sputum eosinophil percentage and classic asthma development, but not between the concentration of sputum ECP and classic asthma development.
Conclusion Sputum eosinophilia in cough-variant asthma may be a correlate of the later development of classic asthma. This suggests that sputum differential cell counts may be useful in the clinical management of patients with cough-variant asthma, as they may enable the prediction of the subsequent classic asthma development.