Bronchial provocation with histamine was performed in 11 boys and 6 girls, age range 2.7-7.4 y, with unspecific respiratory symptoms or bronchial asthma, using a fall in oxygenation as the only indicator of a bronchial reaction. In addition to transcutaneous oxygen tension (tcPO2), transcutaneous carbon dioxide tension (tcPCO2) was continuously monitored during the provocation procedure in order to identify possible changes in ventilation. A fall of 20% or more in the tcPO2 below a "floating" baseline value, defined as the highest tcPO2 value between the inhalations of histamine up to that point, was regarded as indicating a significant bronchial reaction. One child was excluded from the study because of an "early, false-positive" reaction due to hyperventilation during the inhalation, verified by a decrease in the tcPCO2 followed by a compensatory period of hypoventilation, resulting in a fall of more than 15% in the tcPO2 after the inhalation of saline. In the vast majority of the children, however, the tcPO2 values remained stable during the first dose stages of saline and histamine, with either a gradual fall immediately before or a distinct fall in conjunction with the reaction. The mean reaction concentration was significantly lower in the group of children with clinical asthma, 0.74 mg/ml, compared with the group of children with unspecific respiratory symptoms, 2.00 mg/ml (p = 0.03). In conclusion, a 20% fall in the tcPO2 can be used as the only indicator of a bronchial reaction during bronchial provocation tests in young, awake children. Changes in ventilation evaluated by monitoring tcPCO2, makes it possible to distinguish between a fall in oxygen tension due to an early, "false" reaction as a result of hypoventilation and a "true" bronchial reaction.