Macrolide antibiotics have been licensed since the 1950s and have an important role in the treatment of a diverse range of infectious diseases. Macrolide antibiotics have antibacterial activity against gram-positive bacteria, some gram-negative bacteria and intracellular pathogens. The spectrum of antibacterial activity combined with excellent intracellular and tissue penetration has led to the extensive use of this class of drugs in respiratory disease. Macrolide antibiotics also have demonstrated anti-inflammatory properties in various in vitro and in vivo model systems. Novel antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of macrolide may result in clinical benefits, particularly in conditions where the infectious agent is inherently resistant to macrolides. Three randomized control trials have demonstrated improved lung function in patients treated with the macrolide antibiotic, azithromycin. Azithromycin was generally well tolerated and resulted in reduction in the inflammatory response which may be due to an immunomodulatory role. Short term studies (three to six months) have not demonstrated the development of increased bacterial resistance or the emergence of new pathogens following azithromycin.