Background: Allergic non-asthmatic (ANA) adults experience upper airway symptoms of allergic disease such as rhinorrhea, congestion and sneezing without symptoms of asthma. The aim of this study was to utilize PET-CT functional imaging to determine whether allergen challenge elicits a pulmonary response in ANA subjects or whether their allergic disease is truly isolated to the upper airways.
Methods: In 6 ANA subjects, bronchoalveolar lavages (BAL) were performed at baseline and 24h after instillation of an allergen and a diluent in separate lung lobes. After instillation (10h), functional imaging was performed to quantify and compare regional perfusion, ventilation, fractional gas content (Fgas), and glucose uptake rate (Ki) between the baseline, diluent and allergen lobes. BAL cell counts were also compared.
Results: In ANA subjects, compared to the baseline and diluent lobes, perfusion and ventilation were significantly lower in the allergen lobe (median [inter-quartile range], baseline vs. diluent vs. allergen: Mean-normalized perfusion; 0.87 [0.85-0.97] vs. 0.90 [0.86-0.98] vs. 0.59 [0.55-0.67]; p<0.05. Mean-normalized ventilation 0.89 [0.88-0.98] vs. 0.95 [0.89-1.02] vs. 0.63 [0.52-0.67], p<0.05). In contrast, no significant differences were found in Fgas between baseline, diluent and allergen lobes or in Ki. Total cell counts, eosinophil and neutrophil cell counts (cells/ml BAL) were significantly greater in the allergen lobe compared to the baseline lobe (all P<0.05).
Conclusions: Despite having no clinical symptoms of a lower airway allergic response (cough and wheeze) allergic non-asthmatic subjects have a pulmonary response to allergen exposure which manifests as reduced ventilation and perfusion.