Studies of the pathology of rhinitis and asthma have identified similarities and differences between these two clinical conditions. With regard to symptoms, both the nose and the lower airways respond to neural stimulation by irritant substances, but a major difference is that engorgement of the capacitance vessels is the main cause of nasal obstruction in rhinitis, while muscle constriction is the major determinant of lower airway narrowing. There are also similarities and differences with respect to the role of infiammatory cells. In both conditions there is evidence of allergen-induced mast cell activation, with production of an array of mediators (some mast cell-derived and others originating from a variety of other cell types). Eosinophilia is also characteristic of both diseases — it is prominent even in mild forms of asthma, but is low in pollen-sensitive rhinitics outside of the season. T-cell activation and production of cytokines plays an important role in the development and maintenance of allergic disease, but the level of T-cell activation may differ between asthma and rhinitis. Further research into differences in cellular activity and response to treatment between these two diseases may help define factors which will determine whether atopic disease is expressed in the upper, lower, or both parts of the respiratory tract.
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