To assess the role of emphysema on the hyperinflation in chronic asthma, we studied 20 subjects with irreversible airflow limitation. Ten of the subjects had asthma and had never smoked; the other ten were cigarette smokers. Pulmonary function testing and chest computed tomography (CT) scans were performed on all subjects. Emphysema was graded using a score based on the percentage of lung involved on CT scan. There was good inter- and intra-observer agreement for the emphysema scores. The median emphysema score was 0 percent in the nonsmoking group and 10 percent in the smoking group. All smokers with a total lung capacity (TLC) of greater than 120 percent predicted had evidence of emphysema on the CT scan. None of the asthmatic subjects with a TLC greater than 120 percent predicted had emphysema identifiable on CT scan. We conclude that chronic asthma with severe hyperinflation does not result in emphysema.