Functional abnormalities of the extrathoracic airway (EA) may produce symptoms mimicking bronchial asthma. We assessed the bronchial (B) and EA responsiveness to inhaled histamine in 40 patients with asthmatic symptoms and in nine asymptomatic controls. FEV1 and maximal mid-inspiratory flow (MIF50) were used as index of bronchial and EA narrowing. Hyperresponsiveness of the intra-(BHR) or extra-(EA-HR) thoracic airway was diagnosed when the provocative concentrations of histamine (PC20FEV1 or PC25MIF50) were less than 8 mg/ml. Fiberoptic laryngoscopy was performed in nine patients and three controls. The glottal region was measured at mid-volume of maximal inspiration (AgMI) and expiration (AgME) before and after histamine. Predominant EA-HR was found in 13 patients, predominant BHR in 12, equivalent BHR and EA-HR in another 12; no significant airway narrowing was observed in three patients and in the nine controls. EA-HR was significantly associated with female sex, sinusitis, post-nasal drip, dysphonia; BHR with atopy, wheezing and lower MEF50. The percent change in AgMI after histamine was closely related to the PC25MIF50 (r = 0.87, P less than 0.001), that of AgME to the PC20FEV1 (r = 0.78, P less than 0.01). These findings suggest that the assessment of EA responsiveness may be useful in the evaluation of asthmatic symptoms, especially in patients with no BHR.