BACKGROUND--There are times in clinical practice when it would be useful to be able to assess the severity of airways obstruction from tidal breathing. Three indices of airways obstruction derived from analysis of resting tidal expiratory flow have previously been described: (1) Tme/TE = time to reach maximum expiratory flow/expiratory time; (2) Krs = decay constant of exponential fitted to tidal expiratory flow versus time curve; and (3) EV = extrapolated volume--that is, area under the curve when the fitted exponential is extrapolated to zero flow. In this paper a further index--dtr/TE, time from the beginning of expiration till the rapid decay of flow begins/expiratory time--is evaluated. The aim of this study was to assess the ability of these indices to detect mild airways obstruction. METHODS--A histamine bronchial provocation test was performed in 20 adult patients with a diagnosis of asthma or symptoms of cough and/or shortness of breath. Baseline forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), functional residual capacity (FRC), and specific inspiratory conductance (sGaw) were measured and the measurements repeated after the final inhalation of histamine. Expiratory flow patterns during quiet breathing over five consecutive representative breaths were analysed before and after histamine. The test was concluded in 12 subjects when FEV1 had decreased by 20% of the post saline value, and in the remaining eight after inhalation of 16 or 32 mg/ml histamine. RESULTS--FEV1, sGaw, FRC, Krs, EV, and dtr/TE were all different after histamine (paired t test). For Tme/TE no difference was shown. Change in EV detected change in end tidal volume but underestimated it compared with the change measured by body plethysmography. Percentage fall in Krs after histamine correlated with percentage fall in FEV1 (r = 0.527, Pearson correlation coefficient). This was of a similar order to the correlation between the percentage fall in sGaw and in FEV1 (r = 0.543). CONCLUSIONS--Analysis of expiratory tidal flow-time patterns predicted a decrease in FEV1 following histamine challenge as did measurement of sGaw. This analysis of tidal breathing would be useful in circumstances where forced expiratory manoeuvres are unreliable or inapplicable.
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