Normal ciliary ultrastructure is thought to be necessary for effective function. There has been little or no attempt to quantify ultrastructural abnormalities in nasal disease and assess their significance. In this study we measured nasal ciliary function and examined ciliary ultrastructure in nasal brushings from 35 patients with perennial nasal symptoms refractory to treatment. Ultrastructural defects included microtubular abnormalities, compound cilia and ciliary 'blebs'. The incidence of abnormal cilia was 16.7%, compared with 9% in controls, but there was only a poor correlation between ultrastructural defects and ciliary beat frequency. One patient had primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD) with a typical clinical history and immotile cilia. However, only secondary ultrastructural abnormalities were seen. We have been unable to show that ciliary ultrastructural defects form the basis of impaired function. In patients with suspected PCD, nasal brushings should be taken for functional and ultrastructural studies; ideally, a further sample should be obtained for examination of possible primary ultrastructural abnormalities.