Small-airways dysfunction associates with respiratory symptoms and clinical features of asthma: a systematic review

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013 Mar;131(3):646-57. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2012.12.1567. Epub 2013 Feb 4.


Traditionally, asthma has been considered a disease that predominantly involves the large airways. Today, this concept is being challenged, and increasing evidence has become available showing that abnormalities in the small airways also contribute to the clinical expression of asthma. The small airways can be affected by inflammation, remodeling, and changes in the surrounding tissue, all contributing to small-airways dysfunction. In this article we have performed a systematic review of the literature on the association between small-airways dysfunction and clinical signs and symptoms of asthma. This review shows that small-airways dysfunction associates with worse control of asthma, higher numbers of exacerbations, the presence of nocturnal asthma, more severe bronchial hyperresponsiveness, exercise-induced asthma, and the late-phase allergic response. Importantly, small-airways dysfunction can already be present in patients with mild asthma. Our review provides suggestive evidence that a better response of the small airways to inhaled steroids or montelukast associates with better asthma control. For this reason, an early recognition of small-airways dysfunction is important because it enables the physician to start timely treatment to target the small airways. It is important to develop simpler and more reliable tools (eg, questionnaires or bronchial provocation tests with small-particle stimuli) to assess the presence and extent of small-airways dysfunction in daily clinical practice.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects
  • Allergens / adverse effects
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Asthma / physiopathology*
  • Bronchial Hyperreactivity
  • Exercise
  • Humans
  • Lung / physiopathology*


  • Allergens