Symptoms of bronchial asthma are a manifestation of airway inflammation. Circulatory leucocytes (predominantly eosinophils, mast cells and neutrophils), release inflammatory mediators, including reactive oxygen species, i.e. superoxide anion which is dismutated to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). Neutrophils from asthmatics generate greater amounts of these species than those of healthy subjects. Some of the H2O2 and thiobarbituric acid-reactive products (TBARs) can evaporate from alveolar lining fluid, and could be expired from the airways of asthmatics. In this study, therefore, we determined whether asthmatic patients exhale more H2O2 and TBARs than healthy subjects. We examined 10 healthy subjects as a control group and 21 asthmatic subjects. In asthmatic subjects, forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1), was 68+/-9% of predicted value, peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) was 65+/-8% pred, and bronchial reversibility was 34+/-5% of prebronchodilated FEV1. The mean H2O2 level measured spectrofluorimetrically in the expired breath condensate of asthmatic subjects was 26 fold higher than that in healthy controls (0.26+/-0.29 vs 0.01+/-0.03 nM; p<0.05). The concentration of TBARs in breath condensate was also higher in asthmatic patients compared with nonasthmatics (0.073+/-0.071 vs 0.004+/-0.009 nM; p<0.05). There was a significant correlation between H2O2 level and concentration of TBARs in asthmatic patients (r=0.74; p<0.01). There was also a strong inverse correlation between H2O2 content of all asthmatics and FEV1% pred (r=-0.63; p<0.005) and PEFR% pred (r=-0.52; p<0.05). We conclude that there are elevated levels of hydrogen peroxide and thiobarbituric acid-reactive products in expired breath condensate of asthmatic patients, and that measurement of these substances in the expired breath condensate could be a simple, noninvasive method that could be used as a biochemical marker of airway inflammation.