Background: Airway responsiveness to inhaled nonspecific bronchoconstrictive agents has been demonstrated in normal, healthy infants. However, it is unknown whether airway responsiveness is present from birth or if it develops as a result of subsequent insults to the respiratory tract. To investigate this question, we assessed airway responsiveness in 63 normal infants at a mean age of 4 1/2 weeks.
Methods: Respiratory function was measured with use of the partial forced expiratory flow-volume technique to determine the maximal flow at functional residual capacity (VmaxFRC). The infants inhaled nebulized histamine at sequentially doubled concentrations (0.125 to 8.0 g per liter), until a concentration was reached at which the VmaxFRC fell by 40 percent from the base-line value (PC40) or until a concentration of 8.0 g per liter was reached. We also assessed maternal serum levels of IgE, cord-serum levels of IgE, the infants' skin reactivity to several allergens, and the parents' responsiveness to histamine and obtained family histories of asthma and smoking.
Results: Airway responsiveness was increased in infants with a family history of asthma (n = 19; median PC40, 0.78 g per liter; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.44 to 1.15; P less than 0.01), parental smoking (n = 13; median PC40, 0.52 g per liter; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.43 to 5.40; P less than 0.05), or both (n = 20; median PC40, 0.69 g per liter; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.37 to 2.10; P less than 0.05), as compared with the infants with no family history of asthma or smoking. The infants with no family history of asthma or smoking had a median PC40 of 2.75 g per liter (95 percent confidence interval, 1.48 to 4.00). No significant relations were detected between the immunologic variables and the PC40 in the infants.
Conclusions: This study indicates that airway responsiveness can be present early in life and suggests that a family history of asthma or parental smoking contributes to elevated levels of airway responsiveness at an early age.