BACKGROUND--It is not clear whether asymptomatic bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR) in children is a risk factor for the subsequent development of asthma. A longitudinal study was conducted to determine the predictive value of BHR for the development of asthma in a primary care patient population. METHODS--A standard free running asthma screening test (FRAST) was applied to 956 schoolchildren aged between 4 and 11 years in 1985. Peak expiratory flow (PEF) rates were measured before hard running for six minutes and following a three minute rest period. Children with a fall in PEF of more than 15% were labelled as having a positive FRAST. Clinical data from the patients' notes and from symptom questionnaires were compared with age and sex matched controls for children known to have asthma, and for those with a positive FRAST but no asthma (BHR group). Over the ensuing six years to 1991 further clinical data were gathered to compare the development of asthma and other diseases of the airways in both the BHR groups and their controls. RESULTS--Of the 956 children exercised in 1985, 60 who were not known to have asthma had an abnormal test. Of the 55 of these studied in 1991, 32 (58%) had developed asthma. The sensitivity of a positive FRAST for the development of asthma was 58%, its specificity 97%, and positive predictive value 72%. Hay fever, eczema, otitis media, "bronchitis," and family history of atopy also occurred more commonly in this group. CONCLUSIONS--Asymptomatic BHR, as shown by exercise challenge, can predict the development of clinical asthma. This study has also shown a relation between BHR, asthma, and other diseases of the airways, notably upper respiratory tract infection, "bronchitis," and otitis media.
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