Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) may be associated with chronic or recurrent asthma-like symptoms secondary to bronchoconstrictor reflexes and/or inhalation of gastric content. The presence of lipid-laden alveolar macrophages has been proposed as an index to establish the degree of gastric aspiration. We evaluated 20 children with "difficult to treat" respiratory symptoms and a clinical history suggestive of GER. All children underwent 24-hr esophageal pH monitoring (pHm) and fiberoptic bronchoscopy with bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). The amount of lipid per single macrophage was determined by a semiquantitative method, using fluorescence microscopy to detect Nile-Red-stained BAL cells and calculating a lipid-laden macrophage index (LLMI). Eleven children had positive pHm recordings, suggesting the presence of GER (pH-positive patients), and 9 had negative pHm records (pH-negative patients). The pH-positive patients had higher percentages of neutrophils and higher LLMI than the pH-negative children (P < 0.05). There were no correlations between the pHm records and either % BAL neutrophils or LLMI in pH-positive or pH-negative patients (P > 0.05; each correlation). In contrast, a single correlation was found between % BAL neuytrophils and LLMI, both in the pH-positive and in the pH-negative patients (r = 0.72, P = 0.02 and r = 0.71, P = 0.04, respectively). These data demonstrate that a significant proportion of pH-positive patients with respiratory symptoms have BAL abnormalities that suggest airway inflammation and gastric content aspiration. However, the intensity of GER as indicated by pH monitoring does not correspond with BAL data in all patients.
Copyright 2000 Wiley-Liss, Inc.