Background: Breathing dry, cold air may cause bronchoconstriction in asthmatics working with self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Air delivered by SCBA is cooler than ambient air. It is unclear whether a bronchial challenge test using mannitol (BCTM) can predict a fall in forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV(1)) during exercise with SCBA.
Methods: A prospective study of army recruits assigned to work with SCBA was carried out. Participants completed self-administered questionnaires on respiratory symptoms, BCTM, and measurement of exhaled nitric oxide. A subgroup of participants with a positive BCTM (BTCM+) and with negative BCTM underwent exercise test on bicycle ergometer (ET) while using SCBA.
Results: One hundred and six recruits participated in this study. One hundred and two underwent BCTM and 28 ET. Nineteen out of 97 participants had a positive BCTM and 6 out of 27 had a positive ET. Seventeen out of 19 participants with a positive BCTM had current respiratory symptoms such as wheeze, cough, chest tightness, or dyspnea. Sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value, and negative predictive value for a positive ET under SCBA were 100%, 64%, 43%, and 100% for the BCTM, respectively. BCTM-positive participants with respiratory symptoms had more physician consultations during MBT compared to BCTM-negative participants.
Conclusion: Despite medical evaluation and exclusion of asthmatics by a physician during conscription, a high proportion of recruits assigned to work with SCBA smoke, have respiratory symptoms, and have a positive BCTM suggesting current asthma. BCTM has a high sensitivity to predict a significant fall in FEV(1) after exercise with SCBA and participants with a positive BCTM tend to use more health care resources during basic military training. Recruits should be counseled about smoking cessation prior and during basic military training.