Air bronchogram

Last revised by Andrew Murphy on 7 Feb 2023

Air bronchogram refers to the phenomenon of air-filled bronchi (dark) being made visible by the opacification of surrounding alveoli (grey/white). It is almost always caused by a pathologic airspace/alveolar process, in which something other than air fills the alveoli. Air bronchograms will not be visible if the bronchi themselves are opacified (e.g. by fluid) and thus indicate patent proximal airways.

Air bronchograms can be seen with several processes:

Air bronchograms that persist for weeks despite appropriate antimicrobial therapy should raise the suspicion of a neoplastic process. CT may be planned in such cases.

Sonographic air bronchograms arise as a secondary consequence of an extreme perturbation of the air-fluid relationship in the lung parenchyma, in which fluid-filled alveoli act as an excellent acoustic medium and allow visualization of the lung parenchyma. Arborising tubular structures representing the bronchial tree may be visualized which, when patent, appear to contain punctiform-to-linear foci. These structures may remain fixed in position throughout the respiratory cycle or be observed to propagate distally and proximally with inspiration and expiration, respectively. This distinction is important for determining the etiology of the underlying pathology 4:

  • dynamic air bronchograms move centrifugally with respiration

    • represent fluid mixed with air inside larger bronchi, which are in continuity with the gas inspired by the patient

    • indicates a non-retractile consolidation, ruling out resorption atelectasis

    • the specificity of 94% and a positive predictive value of 97% for pneumonia as the cause of the consolidation

  • static air bronchograms lack detectable movement 

    • indicate isolated, trapped air, consistent with resorptive atelectasis

Alveolar filling with fluid or cells contrasts with gas in the airways resulting in an air bronchgram.

Consolidation may be acute, or chronic and progressive depending on the cause. Pneumonia is typically acute, resolving within six weeks, however failure to resolve may indicate chronic progressive disease such as adenocarcinoma or lymphoma.

The term air bronchogram was coined by Ben Felson (1913-1988) 5.

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1
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  • Case 2: with bronchoalveolar carcinoma
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  • Case 3: on ultrasound
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  • Case 4: in a pediatric pneumonia
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  • Case 5: contusion
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  • Case 6: alveolar edema
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  • Case 7: pneumonia
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  • Case 8: multilobar
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  • Case 9: in pulmonary melioidosis
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  • Case 10: air bronchograms on ultrasound
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