The association of air pollution with the prevalence of chronic lower respiratory tract symptoms among children with a history of asthma or related symptoms was examined in a cross-sectional study. Parents of a total of 3,676 fourth, seventh, and tenth graders from classrooms in 12 communities in Southern California completed questionnaires that characterized the children's histories of respiratory illness and associated risk factors. The prevalences of bronchitis, chronic phlegm, and chronic cough were investigated among children with a history of asthma, wheeze without diagnosed asthma, and neither wheeze nor asthma. Average ambient annual exposure to ozone, particulate matter (PM(10) and PM(2.5); [less than/equal to] 10 microm and < 2.5 microm in aerodynamic diameter, respectively), acid vapor, and nitrogen dioxide (NO(2)) was estimated from monitoring stations in each community. Positive associations between air pollution and bronchitis and phlegm were observed only among children with asthma. As PM(10) increased across communities, there was a corresponding increase in the risk per interquartile range of bronchitis [odds ratio (OR) 1.4/19 microg/m(3); 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.1-1.8). Increased prevalence of phlegm was significantly associated with increasing exposure to all ambient pollutants except ozone. The strongest association was for NO(2), based on relative risk per interquartile range in the 12 communities (OR 2.7/24 ppb; CI, 1.4-5.3). The results suggest that children with a prior diagnosis of asthma are more likely to develop persistent lower respiratory tract symptoms when exposed to air pollution in Southern California.