The relationships of skin test positivity, high serum total IgE levels (> 100 kU/L), and peripheral blood eosinophilia (>/= 275 cells/microliter) to symptomatic (either chronic cough, chronic phlegm, bronchitis episodes, dyspnea, wheeze, or asthma) and asymptomatic bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR) were studied cross-sectionally in 620 adult subjects who participated in the Vlagtwedde-Vlaardingen Study of 1989 and 1990. Eosinophilia (OR = 2.06, 95% CI = 1.28 to 3.31) and skin test positivity (OR = 1.66, 95% CI = 1.02 to 2.71) were both significantly associated with BHR independent of age, sex, smoking, and urban area of residence. High serum total IgE levels were not associated with BHR (OR = 1.29, 95% CI = 0.81 to 2.03). Separate analyses for symptomatic and asymptomatic subjects showed that the higher risk of BHR with skin test positivity applied only to symptomatic subjects (OR = 5.78, 95% CI = 1.63 to 20.51), independent of eosinophilia and high serum total IgE levels. The higher risk of BHR with eosinophilia was not different between symptomatic and asymptomatic subjects, and independent of skin test positivity and high serum total IgE levels. The results of this study show that, in the general adult population, eosinophilia is associated with BHR both in symptomatic and asymptomatic persons, whereas skin test positivity is associated with BHR only in symptomatic subjects.