Operational definitions of paediatric asthma used in epidemiological studies: A systematic review.

17 Jul 2021


Researchers use different definitions to identify children with asthma in epidemiological surveys. We conducted a systematic review to describe the definitions used in epidemiologic studies for wheeze and asthma in the paediatric population, aimed to inform the development of a uniform definition of paediatric asthma for future epidemiological research.


We systematically searched terms to identify asthma and/or wheeze among children aged <13 years and published between 1995-2020 across seven databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Global Health, AMED, LILACS and CINAHL). PRISMA guidelines were followed for this review.


We extracted a total of 11 886 records, where 190 met our eligibility criteria and included in the analysis. Among the included studies, 62.1% (n = 118/190) used the International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood (ISAAC) questionnaires, predominantly in developing countries (80%, n = 64/80). 'Wheeze' was reported in five categories, subdivided by 14 different definitions. "Current wheeze", defined as caregivers report of wheezing sounds from the chest of the child in the past 12 months and "Wheeze ever", defined as caregivers' report of wheezing or whistling in the chest of the child at any previous time, were the most common wheeze category reported in 129 and 95 studies, respectively. Asthma was reported in nine categories using 53 definitions. The most common asthma category was "Asthma ever", which was reported in 89 studies, based on caregiver statement that the child had asthma in the past.


Definitions of wheeze and asthma for children used in surveys are primarily based on parent-reported clinical features. Studies from developing countries more frequently used the ISAAC definitions to report childhood asthma and wheeze compared to the studies from developed counties. The use of a uniform asthma definition will aid the interpretation of research findings globally.

Resource information

Respiratory conditions
  • Asthma
Respiratory topics
  • Children
Type of resource
Peer-reviewed article
Islam MS, Huq S, Ahmed S, Roy S, Schwarze J, Sheikh A, Saha SK, Cunningham S, Nair H, RESPIRE collaboration.