Inhaling cold, dry air nasally induces in some persons symptoms of rhinitis that are associated with an increase in the level of mast-cell-associated mediators in nasal lavages. The present study, directed at understanding the mechanism of this reaction, showed that 9 subjects who displayed symptoms and inflammatory mediator release had significant (p less than 0.01) increments in nasal fluid osmolality, whereas the osmolality of the fluids of 6 subjects unaffected by cold, dry air challenge did not differ from baseline. Significant correlations were found between the mediator concentration and the osmolality of recovered nasal lavages (rs = 0.617, p less than 0.02; rs = 0.679, p less than 0.01 for histamine and TAME-esterase(s), respectively). No changes in the osmolality of nasal secretions were found in atopic subjects undergoing nasal challenge with antigen, despite the generation of symptoms and significant elevations in the levels of inflammatory mediators in their nasal lavages. Because increasing the osmolality of the medium surrounding isolated mast cells in vitro triggers mediator secretion, these observations support the concept that the response to cold, dry air nasal inhalation is caused by the release of mediators secondary to an increase in the osmolality of the mucosal secretions.