Methacholine inhalation tests are used to help in the diagnosis of asthma when spirometry is normal. However, the significance of increased methacholine responsiveness in patients with rhinitis and no symptoms of asthma is not known. One possibility is that it is a false positive result; another possibility is that it indicates subclinical asthma. We investigated these possibilities in 25 patients with rhinitis, whose attending physician had not made a diagnosis of asthma, by comparing responsiveness to methacholine expressed as the provocation concentration to cause a fall in FEV1 of 20% (PC20) with responsiveness to the natural stimulus of isocapnic hyperventilation of cold air and the diurnal variation of peak flow rate. Asthma was recognized objectively by variable airflow obstruction documented by one of the latter two tests. The PC20 ranged between 4 and greater than 64 mg/ml. In 10 patients the PC20 was less than 16 mg/ml. Five of these patients had bronchoconstriction in response to hyperventilation, and a further two patients demonstrated increased variability of peak flow rates. Thus, in seven of 10 patients, increased bronchial responsiveness was confirmed by the use of two different methods, although they were asymptomatic, and the increased response to methacholine was not a false positive result. In the remaining three patients the PC20 was borderline increased (8 to 16 mg/ml). The results indicate that methacholine responsiveness in the asthmatic range in patients with rhinitis is associated with variable airflow obstruction and subclinical asthma.