OBJECTIVE To establish the association between airway inflammation and severity of obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) in children. METHODS Consecutive children presenting with symptoms suggestive of OSA were recruited. They completed a sleep apnoea symptom questionnaire, underwent physical examination, spirometry, sputum induction and an overnight polysomnography. Adequate sputum contained <50% squamous epithelial cells, and OSA was diagnosed if the obstructive apnoea index was >1. RESULTS 73 children with a median (interquartile range (IQR)) age of 11.3 (10.0-13.2) years were recruited. There were 21 girls and the median body mass index of the group was 24.0 (18.0-27.0) kg/m2. The most common presenting symptoms were habitual snoring, mouth breathing and prone sleeping position. Sputum induction was successful in 43 (59%) children, of whom 14 were found to have OSA. Children with OSA had significantly greater percentage sputum neutrophil than those without OSA (18.5 (IQR 8.0-42.0) v 4 (IQR 3.0-11.3), p = 0.006). On multiple regression analysis, percentage sputum neutrophil was significantly associated with OSA (odds ratio = 1.1, p = 0.013). CONCLUSION Children with OSA had airway inflammation characterised by a marked increase in neutrophils. Further studies are needed to confirm these findings and to better define the downstream cellular interactions and molecular pathogenesis in childhood OSA.