1. Environmental contact with cold air is a common cause of respiratory distress in obstructive lung disease, and direct and reflex changes in bronchial calibre are well documented with this stimulus when it is inhaled or contacts the exposed skin respectively. It is now known that skin chilling does not amplify the effects of breathing cold air, but it is not established if this lack of interaction is unique, or applies to other forms of airway constrictors.
2. To provide data on this issue, 10 subjects with atopic asthma underwent methacholine bronchoprovocations with and without chilling of the integument of their heads and thoraces for 30 min. Chilling was accomplished with a specially designed thermal garment. Spirometry as well as core and skin temperatures were serially monitored during all experiments.
3. In the control phase (no cooling), integumental temperatures rose slightly, the forced expiratory volume in 1.0 s (FEV1.0) did not change, and the mean provocative concentration of methacholine required to reduce the FEV1.0 by 20% (PC20 meth) was 0.47 ± 0.17 mg/ml (2.4 ± 0.87 mmol/l). In the cold trial, the temperature of the back fell 5.1 ± 1.7 °C to 28.7 ± 1.8 °C (P < 0.01), core temperatures did not change, and airway obstruction developed (ΔFEV1.0 = −6.7 ± 2.1%; P < 0.05). The PC20 meth, however, was unaltered [PC20 meth = 0.45 ± 0.13 mg/ml (2.3 ± 0.66 mmol/1); P = 0.85].
4. These results demonstrate that although skin cooling produces mild airway obstruction in subjects with asthma, it does not change the response to non-specific bronchoconstrictors such as methacholine.