• airway inflammation;
  • asthma;
  • budesonide;
  • children;
  • disodium cromoglycate;
  • eosinophils;
  • induced sputum

Background:  There are few controlled studies on the effects of anti-inflammatory treatment on airway inflammation in newly diagnosed childhood asthma.

Methods:  Sixty children with newly diagnosed mild persistent asthma, 5–10 years of age, and 17 healthy control subjects were studied. Asthmatic children were randomized into an open study with two treatment groups: (1) budesonide 400 μg twice daily for 1 month, 200 μg twice daily for 5 months and (2) disodium cromoglycate (DSCG) 10 mg three-times daily for 6 months. All exacerbations were treated with budesonide 400 μg twice daily for 2 weeks. Symptoms and lung function were recorded throughout the study.

Results:  Sputum induction was safe and the overall success rate was 71%. This improved with age and decreased after treatment. At baseline, the asthmatic children had more eosinophils in blood (0.26 vs 0.18 × 109/l, P = 0.03) and sputum (1.1 vs 0.0 %, P = 0.0001) than the control subjects. The numbers of sputum eosinophils correlated with bronchial responsiveness (R = −0.58, P = 0.0002). Eosinophils were higher in children with atopic asthma than with nonatopic asthma (P < 0.0001), and in children with a history wheezing than in children without wheezing (P = 0.02). Six months of budesonide treatment, but not of DSCG, improved lung function (P = 0.007), decreased symptoms (P = 0.007) and sputum eosinophils (P = 0.003). The effects of budesonide were pronounced in children with intense sputum eosinophilia (>3%).

Conclusion:  Sputum eosinophilia is present in children with newly diagnosed mild persistent asthma. Treatment with inhaled budesonide, but not with DSCG, decreases sputum eosinophils along with clinical and functional improvement.