Exercise-induced asthma (EIA) refers to the transient narrowing of the airways that follows vigorous exercise. The mechanism whereby EIA occurs is thought to relate to the consequences of heating and humidifying large volumes of air during exercise. In 1978 airway cooling was identified as an important stimulus for EIA; however, severe EIA also occurred when hot dry air was inspired, and there was no abnormal cooling of the airways. In 1986 the thermal hypothesis proposed that cooling of the airways needed to be followed by rapid rewarming and that these two events caused a vasoconstriction and a reactive hyperemia of the bronchial microcirculation, together with edema of the airway wall, causing the airways to narrow after exercise. The osmotic, or airway-drying, hypothesis developed from 1982-1992 because neither airway cooling nor rewarming appeared to be necessary for EIA to occur. As water is evaporated from the airway surface liquid, it becomes hyperosmolar and provides an osmotic stimulus for water to move from any cell nearby, resulting in cell volume loss. It is proposed that the regulatory volume increase, after cell shrinkage, is the key event resulting in release of inflammatory mediators that cause airway smooth muscle to contract and the airways of asthmatic subjects to narrow. This event may or may not be associated with airway edema. The osmotic and thermal theories come together by considering that inspiration of cold air not only cools the airways but also increases the numbers of airway generations becoming dehydrated in the humidifying process.