Thorax 57:518-523 doi:10.1136/thorax.57.6.518
  • Original articles

Exhaled nitric oxide levels in atopic children: relation to specific allergic sensitisation, AHR, and respiratory symptoms

  1. J D Leuppi,
  2. S H Downs,
  3. S R Downie,
  4. G B Marks,
  5. C M Salome
  1. Institute of Respiratory Medicine, University of Sydney, Australia
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr J D Leuppi, Respiratory Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, University Hospital, Petersgraben 4, CH-4031 Basel, Switzerland;
  • Accepted 4 December 2001
  • Revised 29 November 2001


Background: Exhaled nitric oxide (eNO), which has been proposed as a measure of airway inflammation, is increased in atopic subjects. This raises the question of whether eNO provides any additional information about airway inflammation in asthmatic subjects, other than as a marker for atopy. A study was undertaken to determine whether eNO levels in a population of atopic children are associated with sensitisation or natural exposure to specific allergens, and to examine the relationship between eNO, airway responsiveness, and current respiratory symptoms.

Methods: Exhaled NO and airway responsiveness to histamine were measured in winter and in summer in 235 children aged 8–14 years who had been classified as atopic by skin prick testing. Current respiratory symptoms, defined as wheeze or cough during the month preceding the test, were measured by a parent completed questionnaire. Airway hyperresponsiveness (AHR) was defined as a dose response ratio (DRR) of >8.1 (% fall in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1)/μmol + 3).

Results: Sensitisation to house dust mite was associated with raised eNO levels in winter while sensitisation to Cladosporium was associated with raised eNO levels in both winter and summer. Grass pollen sensitisation was not associated with raised eNO levels in either season. Exhaled NO correlated significantly with DRR histamine (r=0.43, p<0.001) independently of whether the children had current symptoms or not. In children with current wheeze, those with AHR had eNO levels 1.53 (95% CI 1.41 to 1.66) times higher than those without AHR (p=0.006). Neither DRR (p=1.0) nor eNO levels (p=0.92) differed significantly between children with or without persistent dry cough in the absence of wheeze.

Conclusions: In atopic children, raised eNO levels are associated with sensitisation to perennial allergens, but not to seasonal allergens such as grass pollen. In this population, an increase in eNO is associated with AHR and current wheezing, suggesting that eNO is more than just a marker for atopy.