Purpose of review: Performing a bronchial provocation test (BPT) using a direct or indirect stimulus to identify bronchial hyper-responsiveness (BHR) reduces the possibility of over and under-diagnosis of asthma based on history and symptoms. This review discusses some long-held beliefs of BPTs to include or exclude a diagnosis of asthma or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB).
Recent findings: A high frequency of negative methacholine tests has been reported in 240 patients given a diagnosis of asthma at the end of the study, many of whom had documented EIB. This suggests that a negative methacholine test should not be relied upon to rule out asthma. Further, a positive methacholine test alone should be interpreted with caution as it may reflect airway injury rather than asthma or EIB. Mannitol, an indirect stimulus, identified a similar prevalence of BHR to methacholine and identified more patients than a single exercise test in three studies. However, neither mannitol nor methacholine identified all patients with EIB. Mannitol has a higher specificity for a physician diagnosis of asthma than methacholine.
Summary: It is likely that both a direct test and an indirect test result may be required in some patients in order to confirm or exclude a diagnosis of asthma with certainty.