The presence of airway reactivity before the development of asthma

R. J. Hopp, R. G. Townley, R. E. Biven, A. K. Bewtra, N. M. Nair

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201 Scopus citations


Exaggerated airway reactivity is an essential component of the current asthmatic. It is not clear, however, if airway reactivity is genetically determined or acquired. To examine the possibility that increased bronchial reactivity exists prior to the development of asthma, we report on 20 subjects who were studied before and after the onset of clinical asthma. Subjects were part of a larger on-going study of the Natural History of Asthma. Thirteen subjects indicated by their answers to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute respiratory questionnaire that they were not asthmatic at their initial visit. Seven subjects had pulmonary symptoms on their initial visit, but had not been diagnosed as asthmatic. Bronchial reactivity was assessed using a standardized methacholine challenge. For the 20 subjects, there was a mean interval of 3.5 yr between the initial visit and the diagnosis of asthma. Ten of 13 nonasthmatic subjects had moderate or strongly positive responses (208 breath units or less) to methacholine prior to onset of asthma. These 13 subjects were compared to age- and sex-matched controls, from both asthmatic and nonasthmatic families, who had not become asthmatic. There was a difference in bronchial responses at the initial visit between the 13 study subjects and their control subjects from nonasthmatic families, but not between the subjects and their controls from asthmatic families. Five of 7 subjects with pulmonary symptoms had responses of 100 breath units or less. Overall, 19 of 20 subjects had strongly positive resonses to methacholine after the diagnosis of asthma was established. The results show that enhanced airway reactivity usually precedes the development of asthma, which could support a genetic basis for it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2-8
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Review of Respiratory Disease
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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