Part of the problem in asthma is airway tightening (often treated with albuterol); part of the problem is inflammation in the lungs. This ongoing inflammation is often undertreated, resulting in more asthma flare-ups, more need for asthma medicines, and greater ongoing damage to the lungs.
The May 2002 issue of Thorax contains a promising analysis of a quick and simple asthma test. This breath test measures nitrous oxide levels in the air that children exhale, with results available immediately. Levels of nitrous oxide are significantly higher in those children with asthma. Among those children with asthma, the levels vary depending on the amount of inflammation present.
More recent studies confirm the correlation between lung inflammation and asthma symptoms with the level of nitrous oxide. The test could be used to help in the initial diagnosis of asthma, and perhaps more importantly, to adjust preventive and anti-inflammatory medicines to get the maximum effect at the minimum dose for a particular child. In the near future, this could prove to be a powerful way to tailor asthma care for better results.