Bronchial asthma is associated with increased levels of exhaled nitric oxide which are suppressible by glucocorticosteroid inhalation. Children with bronchial asthma were studied to elucidate the relation between endogenous NO release and recent symptoms of bronchial obstruction. Twenty-five children with atopic asthma and 11 healthy control subjects were enrolled and exhaled NO was studied using chemiluminescence analysis. The subjects breathed purified air (<0.5 parts per billion (ppb) NO) exclusively through their mouths. Orally expired NO was measured during continuous nasal aspiration (1.3 L x min(-1)) to remove nasally produced NO. Nasal NO concentration was determined within the aspirated gas. Orally expired NO concentration was 2.5+/-0.3 ppb (mean +/-SEM) in healthy control subjects, 3.19+/-0.88 ppb (NS) in symptom-free children, and 8.28+/-0.81 ppb (p< or =0.01) in children with bronchial asthma who had had recent symptoms of bronchial obstruction. Similarly, in the subgroup of children treated regularly with inhaled glucocorticosteroids those with recent symptoms had significantly higher orally exhaled NO concentrations than healthy control subjects (9.5+/-1.5 ppb, p<0.05). The nasal NO concentration was 152.8+/-12.7 ppb in healthy control subjects and not significantly different in asthmatic children. In this group of asthmatic children, recent symptoms of bronchial obstruction were linked to significantly higher concentrations of NO in orally exhaled gas and to increased oral NO excretion rates. If substantiated by further studies, measurement of orally exhaled NO during nasal aspiration may become useful to monitor disease control in asthmatic children.