Segmental antigen bronchoprovocation was used to define the nature of the inflammatory process in allergic airway disease. Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid obtained from allergic rhinitis patients 12 min after segmental antigen instillation (immediate response) revealed a significant increase in histamine and tryptase, but no cellular response. Repeat segmental lavage 48 h later (late response) showed marked and significant increases in both low and normal density eosinophils as well as striking elevations of eosinophil granular protein levels (major basic protein, eosinophil-derived neurotoxin, eosinophil cationic protein, and eosinophil peroxidase). Leukotriene C4, but not tryptase, concentrations were also consistently elevated in late lavage samples. Further, the late lavage samples showed a significant increase in interleukin-5 concentrations that correlated with the presence of eosinophils and eosinophil granular proteins. Neither eosinophils nor soluble mediators of eosinophils increased when normal subjects were similarly challenged with antigen. These data suggest that eosinophils are attracted to the airway during the late-phase allergic reaction and that IL-5 may produce changes in airway eosinophil density and promote the release of granular proteins to cause airway injury.