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Eur Respir J. 1998 Oct;12(4):825-30.

Inhalation of cold air increases the number of inflammatory cells in the lungs in healthy subjects.

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Dept of Occupational Medicine, National Institute for Working Life, Solna, Sweden.


Prolonged exposure to cold air may induce a chronic asthma-like condition in healthy subjects as has been demonstrated in cross-country skiers. In the present controlled study, our aim was to elucidate further the link between cold air exposure and airway inflammation by assessing the cellular influx and mediator levels within the airways following acute exposure to cold air. Bronchoalveolar (BAL) and nasal lavages were performed after exposure to cold air (-23 degrees C) and normal indoor air (+22 degrees C) during a light, intermittent work for 2 h in a cross-over design in eight healthy, nonsmoking, subjects. Analyses of inflammatory cell number, cell activation markers, pro-inflammatory cytokines, albumin and interleukin (IL)-8 in lavage fluids were performed. The number of granulocytes and of alveolar macrophages in BAL fluid was significantly higher after cold air exposure (p<0.05). No increase in BAL fluid lymphocytes and no signs of lymphocyte activation in BAL fluid were found. The concentration of IL-8 was unchanged. There were no signs of granulocyte activation (myeloperoxidase, eosinphilic cationic protein) in BAL fluid. Cold air did not influence the number of inflammatory cells or the concentration of albumin and IL-8 in nasal lavage fluid. In conclusion, exposure to cold air induces an increased number of granulocytes and macrophages in the lower airways in healthy subjects without influencing other inflammatory indices such as cellular activation, plasma leakage and pro-inflammatory cytokines. These findings support the hypothesis that cold air could be of pathogenetic importance in the asthma-like condition previously found in cross-country skiers.

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