Chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis

Am J Surg Pathol. 2006 Feb;30(2):201-8. doi: 10.1097/01.pas.0000184806.38037.3c.


Hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP) is traditionally divided on clinical grounds into acute, subacute, and chronic stages. Most biopsy specimens come from patients in the subacute stage, in which there is a relatively mild, usually peribronchiolar, chronic interstitial inflammatory infiltrate, accompanied in most cases by poorly formed interstitial granulomas or isolated giant cells. However, the pathologic features in the chronic, ie, fibrotic stage, are poorly defined in the literature. These features are important to recognize because the chronic stage of HP is often associated with a poor prognosis. We reviewed 13 cases of chronic HP. Where information was available, exposures to the sensitizing agent had generally occurred over a long period of time. Three patterns of fibrosis were seen: 1) predominantly peripheral fibrosis in a patchy pattern with architectural distortion and fibroblast foci resembling, microscopically, usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP); 2) relatively homogeneous linear fibrosis resembling fibrotic nonspecific interstitial pneumonia (NSIP); and 3) irregular predominantly peribronchiolar fibrosis. In some instances, mixtures of the UIP-like and peribronchiolar patterns were found. In all cases, the presence of scattered poorly formed granulomas, or isolated interstitial giant cells, or sometimes only Schaumann bodies indicated the correct diagnosis. In 7 cases, areas of typical subacute HP were present as well. High-resolution CT scans showed variable patterns ranging from severe fibrosis, in some instances with an upper zone predominance, to predominantly ground glass opacities with peripheral reticulation. We conclude that, at the level of morphology, chronic HP may closely mimic UIP or fibrotic NSIP. If no areas of subacute HP are evident, the presence of isolated giant cells, poorly formed granulomas, or Schaumann bodies is crucial to arriving at the correct diagnosis, and the finding of peribronchiolar fibrosis may be helpful. Despite the presence of extensive fibrosis, some patients responded to removal from exposure and steroid therapy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Aged
  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / complications
  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / pathology*
  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / therapy
  • Chronic Disease
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Giant Cells / pathology
  • Granuloma, Respiratory Tract / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / etiology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Sarcoidosis, Pulmonary / pathology


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones