1. Forced exhalations performed from volumes below total lung capacity, so-called partial expiratory flow-volume curves, are suggested to be more sensitive in detecting airways bronchoconstriction than maximal expiratory flow-volume curves begun at total lung capacity.
2. In eight healthy men both maximal and partial expiratory flow-volume curves were measured where breath was held at total lung capacity or 70% of vital capacity respectively, for either 0 or 15 s before performing the forced exhalation. An histamine aerosol was used to provoke bronchoconstriction.
3. The results showed that the 15 s breath hold caused greater reduction in expiratory flow rates after histamine for both maximal and partial expiratory flow-volume curves than either manoeuvres performed with no breath hold.
4. A breath hold of 15 s at total lung capacity appeared to make the maximal expiratory flow-volume curve as sensitive as a partial expiratory flow-volume curve in detecting the response to histamine as well as providing measurements of forced expiratory volume in 1 s and vital capacity. Forced spirometry after a 15 s breath hold at total lung capacity therefore provides an easy and sensitive technique for detecting bronchoconstriction.