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This article is part of the supplement: Improving outcomes for asthma patients with allergic rhinitis

Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Allergic rhinitis and asthma: inflammation in a one-airway condition

Peter K Jeffery1* and Tari Haahtela2

Author Affiliations

1 Lung Pathology, Imperial College at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London, SW3 6NP, UK

2 Skin and Allergy Hospital, Helsinki University Central Hospital, PO Box 160, 00029 HUS, Finland

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BMC Pulmonary Medicine 2006, 6(Suppl 1):S5  doi:10.1186/1471-2466-6-S1-S5

Published: 30 November 2006



Allergic rhinitis and asthma are conditions of airway inflammation that often coexist.


In susceptible individuals, exposure of the nose and lungs to allergen elicits early phase and late phase responses. Contact with antigen by mast cells results in their degranulation, the release of selected mediators, and the subsequent recruitment of other inflammatory cell phenotypes. Additional proinflammatory mediators are released, including histamine, prostaglandins, cysteinyl leukotrienes, proteases, and a variety of cytokines, chemokines, and growth factors. Nasal biopsies in allergic rhinitis demonstrate accumulations of mast cells, eosinophils, and basophils in the epithelium and accumulations of eosinophils in the deeper subepithelium (that is, lamina propria). Examination of bronchial tissue, even in mild asthma, shows lymphocytic inflammation enriched by eosinophils. In severe asthma, the predominant pattern of inflammation changes, with increases in the numbers of neutrophils and, in many, an extension of the changes to involve smaller airways (that is, bronchioli). Structural alterations (that is, remodeling) of bronchi in mild asthma include epithelial fragility and thickening of its reticular basement membrane. With increasing severity of asthma there may be increases in airway smooth muscle mass, vascularity, interstitial collagen, and mucus-secreting glands. Remodeling in the nose is less extensive than that of the lower airways, but the epithelial reticular basement membrane may be slightly but significantly thickened.


Inflammation is a key feature of both allergic rhinitis and asthma. There are therefore potential benefits for application of anti-inflammatory strategies that target both these anatomic sites.