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Asthma—time for a change of name?
  1. Department of Paediatrics
  2. Royal Brompton Hospital
  3. Sydney Street
  4. London SW3 6NP

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    Editor,—In his robust defence of the term asthma,1 Dr Speight has failed to grasp the significance of the changed definition of this term. The original definition of asthma was purely functional: “airway obstruction which varies over the course of time and with treatment”.2 In small infants in whom lung function measurements are not usually available, this was modified to “cough and/or wheeze in a setting where asthma is likely, and other rarer conditions have been excluded”.3 By this definition, few would quarrel with Dr Speight’s wish1 to retain the term for infant wheezing.

    Unfortunately, to use Asher’s words,4 “an abominable semantic crime has been committed, a single term has knowingly been applied to two completely different things without making the slightest effort to determine if the one is the equal to the other, or even related to the other. A pathological process and a collection of symptoms have been given the same name”. Asthma is now defined as “a chronic inflammatory disorder …

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