Purpose: To test the hypothesis that diffuse and/or focal air trapping are sensitive indicators of airflow obstruction in smoker's small airways disease, when age, gender and presence of emphysematous lesions were allowed for.
Material and Methods: Fifty-eight smokers and 34 never smokers, recruited from a randomized population study of men born in 1933, were investigated by HRCT and by extended pulmonary function tests, including a sensitive test for small airways disease (N2 slope). Diffuse air trapping was evaluated by calculating a quotient of mean lung density at expiration and inspiration. Focal air trapping was scored visually by consensus.
Results: Diffuse air trapping did not differ between non-emphysematous smokers and never smokers. Furthermore, diffuse air trapping correlated well to the quotient between the residual volume and total lung capacity (RV/TLC, p = 0.01) and was consequently higher in emphysematous smokers than in never smokers.
Focal air trapping was found as frequently in smokers without emphysema as in never smokers. Smokers with emphysema showed significantly less focal air trapping. Neither the N2 slope nor any of the other lung function variables differed between those with and without focal air trapping among non-emphysematous smokers.
Conclusion: Neither diffuse nor focal air trapping are sensitive indicators of smoker's small airways disease.