The use of troleandomycin as adjunctive therapy for the treatment of patients with corticosteroid-dependent asthma first suggested an immunomodulatory effect of the macrolide antibiotics. This led to studies of the macrolides in other chronic airway diseases, such as diffuse panbronchiolitis (DPB), a disease occurring primarily in East Asia. The use of macrolides for the therapy of patients with DPB has led to dramatic improvements in pulmonary function and prolonged survival. Similar benefits have been documented in Japanese studies of bronchiectasis, chronic bronchitis, and sinobronchial syndrome. Clinical and pathologic similarities between DPB and cystic fibrosis (CF) led to the investigation of macrolides for the treatment of CF. Data now suggest that persons with CF will benefit from macrolide therapy. In vitro and in vivo studies suggest that macrolides may inhibit the pulmonary influx of neutrophils, inhibit the release of proinflammatory cytokines, protect the epithelium from bioactive phospholipids, and improve the transportability of airway secretions. The immunomodulatory effects of the macrolides also may be beneficial for the treatment of other chronic inflammatory conditions.