William McNulty and Omar S. Usmani
The small airways are defined as those less than 2 mm in diameter. They are a major site of pathology in many lung diseases, not least chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma. The small airways are frequently involved early in the course of these diseases, with significant pathology demonstrable often before the onset of symptoms or changes in spirometry and imaging. Despite their importance, they have proven relatively difficult to study. This is in part due to their relative inaccessibility to biopsy and their small size which makes their imaging difficult. Traditional lung function tests may only become abnormal once there is a significant burden of disease within them. This has led to the term ‘the quiet zone’ of the lung. In recent years, more specialised tests have been developed which may detect these changes earlier, perhaps offering the possibility of earlier diagnosis and intervention. These tests are now moving from the realms of clinical research laboratories into routine clinical practice and are increasingly useful in the diagnosis and monitoring of respiratory diseases. This article gives an overview of small airways physiology and some of the routine and more advanced tests of airway function.
Complete article with all references at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4629724/