To determine why patients with allergic rhinitis alone differ in their airway response to inhaled allergen compared to patients with allergic asthma, bronchial lavage was performed in 10 subjects with allergic asthma and in five subjects with allergic rhinitis, before and after inhalation challenge with antigen to produce an immediate asthmatic reaction. Before antigen challenge, the subjects with asthma had higher absolute neutrophil counts in the lavage fluid. After antigen challenge, the subjects with asthma released significant amounts of bronchoconstrictive mediators, such as histamine and thromboxane B2 into the lavage fluid, whereas subjects with rhinitis alone did not. There was also a significant increase in prostaglandin E2 in the subjects with asthma after antigen challenge. Nonimmunologic bronchoconstriction with methacholine inhalation challenge in six other subjects with asthma did not demonstrate an increase in any of the lavage fluid mediator levels that were measured. A positive correlation was found between methacholine provocative concentration causing a 20% drop in FEV1 and the concentration of prostaglandin E2 in the lavage fluid before challenge. The significance of this observation has yet to be determined. The results suggest that subjects with allergic asthma differ from subjects with rhinitis alone in their capacity to release more mediators into the airways on antigen challenge. It is not known whether this increase in mediators is due to increase in the number of mast cells in the airways or due to increase in mediator releasability from the mast cells of subjects with asthma.