Asthma is characterized by airflow obstruction that is usually completely reversible either spontaneously or in response to treatment. However, a small subset of patients with asthma display FAO (fixed airflow obstruction) despite optimal treatment, a feature more commonly associated with smoking-induced COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Why some asthma patients develop FAO is not understood, and it is not clear whether (i) they represent a subset of patients with more severe disease, (ii) they share some characteristics of patients who develop COPD, or (iii) they represent a different disease entity altogether. The present review compares the pulmonary inflammatory profile of asthma patients with FAO with those without FAO, as well as COPD sufferers. The inflammation in asthma patients with FAO can vary from neutrophilic with CD8 T-cell involvement, similar to that of COPD, to eosinophilic with CD4 Th2 cell involvement, akin to that of asthma patients without FAO. Although studies of FAO in asthma sufferers would benefit hugely from consistent inclusion criteria, further research work is also required to shed more light on the immunological processes involved.

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