Airway obstruction due to decreased airway diameter and increased incidence of mucus plugs has not been directly observed in asthma exacerbation. We studied the changes in the inner diameter of the airway (Din) and the frequency of mucus plugs by airway generation in patients with asthma exacerbation. We compared these patients to those in a stable phase using high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT).
Thirteen patients with asthma were studied by HRCT during asthma exacerbation and in a stable period. The HRCT study was performed on patients who could safely hold their breath for a short while in a supine position 1 hour after initial treatment for asthma exacerbation. Using a curved multiplanar reconstruction (MPR) software, we reconstructed the longitudinal airway images and the images exactly perpendicular to the airway axis to measure the Din and mucus plugs from the second- (segmental) to sixth-generation bronchi in all segments of the lungs.The ratios of Din (exacerbation/stable) were 0.91(P = 0.016), 0.88 (P = 0.002), 0.83 (P = 0.001), 0.80 (P = 0.001), and 0.87 (NS) in the second-, third-, fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-generation bronchi, respectively. The percentages of airway obstruction due to mucus plugs were notably higher in the fourth- and fifth-generation bronchi (17.9%/18.1% in stable phase and 43.2%/45.9% in the exacerbation phase, respectively) than in the other generations of bronchi.
Among the bronchi examined, the fourth- and fifth-generation bronchi were significantly obstructed during asthma exacerbation compared with the stable phase in terms of a decreased airway diameter and mucus plugs.