Indirect challenges act by causing the release of endogenous mediators that cause the airway smooth muscle to contract. This is in contrast to the direct challenges where agonists such as methacholine or histamine cause airflow limitation predominantly via a direct effect on airway smooth muscle. Direct airway challenges have been used widely and are well standardised. They are highly sensitive, but not specific to asthma and can be used to exclude current asthma in a clinic population. Indirect bronchial stimuli, in particular exercise, hyperventilation, hypertonic aerosols, as well as adenosine, may reflect more directly the ongoing airway inflammation and are therefore more specific to identify active asthma. They are increasingly used to evaluate the prevalence of bronchial hyperresponsiveness and to assess specific problems in patients with known asthma.