There is little information of lower respiratory symptoms, bronchial hyperresponsiveness and airway inflammation in elite ice hockey players. A total of 88 highly trained ice hockey players and 47 control subjects were studied. All the subjects were subjected to skin-prick tests, resting spirometry examinations and histamine-challenge tests. Adequate induced sputum samples were obtained from 68 of the ice hockey players and from 18 symptom-free control subjects on a separate day. Bronchial hyperresponsiveness in a histamine-challenge test was found in 21 (24%) of the athletes and in five (11%) of the controls. Current asthma (current asthmatic symptoms and increased bronchial responsiveness) was observed in 13 (15%) of the athletes and in one (2%) of the control subjects. Total asthma (current asthma or previously physician-diagnosed asthma) occurred in 19 (22%) of the athletes and in two (4%) of the controls. Atopy, according to skin-prick tests, was observed in 51 (58%) of the athletes and 17 (36%) of the control subjects. The differential cell counts of eosinophils (2.6 versus 0.2%) and neutrophils (80.9 versus 29.9%) in the sputum samples of the ice hockey players were significantly higher than in those of the control subjects. Asthma is common in elite ice hockey players and they show signs of a mixed type of neutrophilic and eosinophilic airway inflammation. Inhalation of cold air associated with exposure to indoor pollutants during intensive training is a possible causative factor.