The clinical and pathologic diagnosis of hypersensitivity pneumonitis has been confounded by conflicting definitions, with two recent guidelines suggesting that hypersensitivity pneumonitis simply be diagnosed as nonfibrotic or fibrotic. Nonfibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis is usually characterized by a bronchiolocentric chronic interstitial inflammatory infiltrate, frequently but by no means always with associated granulomas or giant cells. Fibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis may take the form of interstitial fibrosis confined to the peribronchiolar regions, or fibrotic nonspecific interstitial pneumonia, or a process similar to and sometimes indistinguishable from usual interstitial pneumonia/idiopathic interstitial fibrosis, but the exact pathologic features that favor a diagnosis of fibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis are disputed. Granulomas/giant cells are much less frequent in fibrotic compared to nonfibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Extensive peribronchiolar metaplasia, particularly peribronchiolar metaplasia affecting more than half the bronchioles, supports a diagnosis of fibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis over usual interstitial pneumonia, as does the presence of predominantly peribronchiolar disease with relative subpleural sparing. Clinical and CT features are crucial to the diagnosis of hypersensitivity pneumonitis: sparing of the lung bases, centrilobular nodules, air-trapping, or the triple density sign with fibrosis favor a diagnosis of fibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis. At this point there are no molecular tests that reliably separate fibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis from other forms of interstitial lung disease. Currently the separation of fibrotic hypersensitivity pneumonitis from usual interstitial pneumonia is crucial to treatment (immunosuppressives for the former, anti-fibrotics for the latter) but this approach is changing and all progressive fibrosing interstitial pneumonias will probably be treated with antifibrotics in the future.
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Churg, A. Hypersensitivity pneumonitis: new concepts and classifications. Mod Pathol (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41379-021-00866-y