Purpose of review: Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), also known as extrinsic allergic alveolitis, is a granulomatous, inflammatory disease of the lungs caused by the inhalation of antigenic organic particles or fumes. The disease may present as an acute, subacute, or chronic illness. Episodes of acute and subacute HP usually resolve following cessation of antigen exposure. Chronic HP may be progressive, irreversible, and result in debilitating fibrotic lung disease. This review discusses current concepts regarding the diagnosis, pathogenesis, and treatment of HP.
Recent findings: The pathogenesis of HP involves both type III and type IV hypersensitivity reactions that are mediated by immune complexes and Th1 T cells, respectively. Proinflammatory cytokines and chemokines activate alveolar macrophages, cause an influx of CD8+ lymphocytes into the lungs, facilitate granuloma formation, and promote the development of pulmonary fibrosis. IFN-gamma is essential for the development of HP and IL-10 appears to modulate the severity of disease. TNF-alpha and TGF-beta have been implicated in development of the pulmonary fibrosis that is seen in chronic HP. It has been shown that pigeon fanciers with HP have an increase in the frequency of HLA-DRB1*1305 and HLA-DQB1*0501 alleles, a decrease in the frequency of the HLA-BRB1*0802 allele, and an increased frequency of the TNF-2 (-308) polymorphism of the TNF-alpha promoter gene.
Summary: A careful environmental and occupational history and establishment of exposure to a known inciting antigen are key factors in making the diagnosis of HP. Serum precipitating antibodies, bronchoalveolar lavage, and lung biopsy may be helpful in making the diagnosis. Avoidance of organic antigen exposure is the most important factor in the management of HP. Corticosteroids are indicated for the treatment of severe acute and subacute HP and for chronic HP that is severe or progressive. Long-term corticosteroid therapy for the treatment of chronic HP should be considered only if objective improvement in clinical signs, pulmonary function, or radiographic abnormalities is documented.