The diagnostic yield of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) for Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) in patients infected with human immunodeficiency virus has been reported to be 95 percent, but falls to 62 percent in patients receiving aerosolized pentamidine. Because aerosolized pentamidine appears to be preferentially deposited in the middle and lower lobes, we postulated that an upper lobe lavage would have a higher diagnostic yield than the standard middle/lower lobe lavage in patients receiving aerosolized pentamidine. Twenty-five patients receiving aerosolized pentamidine suspected of having acute PCP underwent separate BAL of an upper lobe and lower lobe as well as transbronchial biopsy. Fifteen of the 25 (60 percent) were diagnosed as having PCP. Of the 15, one had the samples inadvertently combined. In the remaining 14, BAL was positive for P carinii organisms in 12 lavages of the lower lobe and 14 of the upper lobe. Upper lobe lavage had statistically significantly more P carinii organisms by semiquantitative technique than the lower lobe. In patients receiving aerosolized pentamidine, who develop acute PCP, an upper lobe lavage may have a higher diagnostic yield than the standard middle/lower lobe lavage. In addition, the transbronchial biopsy specimen offered no treatable diagnosis that was not made by lavage alone in the 25 patients. This raises the question of the utility of transbronchial biopsies in these patients.