Asthma and rhinitis often co-exist and there are data to suggest that they may be two ends of the same disease spectrum. Immunohistochemical studies have shown that eosinophilia in the airways is a feature of rhinitic patients without asthma.
The aim of our study was to examine whether cellular infiltration exists in the nasal mucosa of asthmatics even in the absence of symptoms and signs of rhinitis.
Nasal mucosa biopsies were taken from 27 non-atopic subjects and comprised nine asthmatic rhinitic patients (AR), eight asthmatic non-rhinitic patients (ANR) and 10 healthy control subjects (N). Bronchial mucosa biopsies were also taken simultaneously from some of the patients (n = 10) to determine whether there was an association between cellular infiltration in the nose and the lungs. The alkaline phosphatase-anti-alkaline phosphatase (APAAP) method was used on 6 μm thick cryostat sections using monoclonal antibodies against T cells (CD4, CD8), eosinophils (EG2) and mast cells (mast cell tryptase). Slides were counted blind and results expressed as cells per field.
The results showed that eosinophil counts were higher in both asthma groups compared with control nasal biopsies (median values AR 8.3, ANR 9.2, N 2.1 cells per field, P < 0.01). Furthermore, there was a significant correlation between eosinophil cell counts in the nose and the airways (r = 0.851 P < 0.001). No differences in eosinophil numbers were detected between the two groups of asthmatics. Also, no differences were noted for any other cell type (i.e. CD4, CD8, tryptase) among the three study groups.
These results show that eosinophil infiltration was present in the nasal mucosa of asthmatic patients even in the absence of rhinitis, and add further support to the hypothesis that asthma and rhinitis are clinical expressions of the same disease entity.