Imaging of Small Airways Disease

Gordon S. Teel, Christopher E. Engeler, Joseph H. Tashijian, René P. DuCret

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


High-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) is the most useful modality for imaging of small airways disease. Direct signs of small airways disease that appear on HRCT scans are the result of changes in the airway wall or lumen. Abnormal small airways can be seen as tubular, nodular, or branching linear structures on HRCT scans. Indirect signs of small airways disease result from changes in the lung parenchyma distal to the diseased small airway and include air trapping, subsegmental atelectasis, centrilobular emphysema, and air-space nodules. Diverse inflammatory and infectious processes, such as bronchiolitis obliterans (BO), bronchiolitis obliterans with organizing pneumonia (BOOP), smoking-related diseases, and asthma affect the small airways of the lungs. HRCT findings of BO include air trapping and bronchiectasis. The predominant findings of BOOP are consolidation and ground-glass attenuation. HRCT can show abnormalities such as small nodules and areas of ground-glass attenuation even in asymptomatic smokers, but emphysema predominates in smokers with moderate or severe obstructive disease. Patients with asthma can have thickened airway walls, plugged large and small airways, subsegmental atelectasis, and air trapping, but emphysema is rarely seen even in severe asthma patients. HRCT scans can often accurately depict disease processes in the small airways and can occasionally lead to a specific diagnosis from among several clinically relevant possibilities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-41
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Asthma, 60.754
  • Bronchiectasis, 60.26
  • Bronchiolitis obliterans, 60.795
  • Emphysema, pulmonary, 60.751
  • Lung, CT, 60.12118
  • Lung, diseases, 60.751, 60.754, 60.795


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