The bronchial response to inhaled histamine has been suggested as an epidemiological tool for assessing the prevalence of asthma, though the exact relationship between reactivity and asthma is unknown. Tests of bronchial reactivity to histamine were carried out in 511 subjects aged 18-64 years, randomly selected from the population in two areas of the South of England, who had returned questionnaires on respiratory symptoms. Bronchial reactivity to less than or equal to 8 mumol histamine was present in 14% and was associated with positive skin test responses to common allergens and with smoking history. Both of these relationships were in turn dependent on age, skin sensitivity being the more important determinant of reactivity in the young and smoking the more important in older subjects. Bronchial reactivity was least prevalent in the 35-44 year age group. No independent effect on reactivity of sex, social class, or area of residence was detected, and no significant effect from recent respiratory tract infections. Interpretation of the bronchial response to histamine in selected groups of subjects must take account of age, atopic state, and smoking history.
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