BACKGROUND--Spectral characteristics of breath sounds in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) have not previously been compared, although the structural differences in these disorders might be reflected in breath sounds. METHODS--Flow standardised inspiratory breath sounds in patients with COPD (n = 17) and stable asthma (n = 10) with significant airways obstruction and in control patients without any respiratory disorders (n = 11) were compared in terms of estimates of the power spectrum. Breath sounds were recorded simultaneously at the chest and at the trachea. RESULTS--The median frequency (F50) of the mean (SD) breath sound spectra recorded at the chest was higher in asthmatics (239 (19) Hz) than in both the control patients (206 (14) Hz) and the patients with COPD (201 (21) Hz). The total spectral power of breath sounds recorded at the chest in terms of root mean square (RMS) was higher in asthmatics than in patients with COPD. In patients with COPD the spectral parameters were not statistically different from those of control patients. The F50 recorded at the trachea in the asthmatics was significantly related to forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) (r = -0.77), but this was not seen in the other groups. CONCLUSIONS--The observed differences in frequency content of breath sounds in patients with asthma and COPD may reflect altered sound generation or transmission due to structural changes of the bronchi and the surrounding lung tissue in these diseases. Spectral analysis of breath sounds may provide a new non-invasive method for differential diagnosis of obstructive pulmonary diseases.
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