Sudden-onset fatal asthma. A distinct entity with few eosinophils and relatively more neutrophils in the airway submucosa?

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1993 Sep;148(3):713-9. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm/148.3.713.


To determine the histologic differences in the airways of patients who died from sudden-onset asthma and the more common slow-onset asthma, we studied seven cases of fatal asthma. The numbers of eosinophils and neutrophils, as well as extracellular deposition of their respective granule contents in the airway mucosa and submucosa, were determined and statistically analyzed. Four of the seven patients had slow-onset asthma attacks in which the time interval between onset of asthma and death was more than 2.5 h. In contrast, three patients had sudden-onset asthma in which the time interval between onset of asthma attack and death was less than 1 h. The four patients with slow-onset fatal asthma had more eosinophils (34.1 +/- 6.3 in slow-onset; 9.7 +/- 3.5 in sudden-onset; p = 0.002) and fewer neutrophils (4.8 +/- 2.0 in slow-onset; 16.8 +/- 5.4 in sudden-onset; p = 0.008) in the airway submucosa than did patients with sudden-onset fatal asthma. In addition, within the slow-onset fatal asthma group, eosinophils exceeded neutrophils in the airway submucosa (eosinophils > neutrophils, p = 0.002). By contrast, within the sudden-onset fatal asthma group, neutrophils exceeded eosinophils (neutrophils > eosinophils, p = 0.04). We suggest that sudden-onset fatal asthma is immunohistologically distinct from slow-onset fatal asthma and that it is characterized by a relative paucity of eosinophils in the face of an excess of neutrophils in the airway submucosa.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Asthma / etiology
  • Asthma / metabolism
  • Asthma / mortality
  • Asthma / pathology*
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism
  • Bronchi / metabolism
  • Bronchi / pathology*
  • Eosinophil Granule Proteins
  • Eosinophils / metabolism
  • Eosinophils / pathology*
  • Female
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mucous Membrane / metabolism
  • Mucous Membrane / pathology
  • Neutrophils / metabolism
  • Neutrophils / pathology*
  • Pancreatic Elastase / metabolism
  • Ribonucleases*


  • Blood Proteins
  • Eosinophil Granule Proteins
  • Ribonucleases
  • Pancreatic Elastase