Reactive airway disease (RAD) is a reversible narrowing of the airways. RAD is sometimes called bronchospasm.
RAD is not a diagnosis. It is a term used until a more specific diagnosis can be made. If the condition lasts more than 6 months, it may be called asthma.
It is not clear what causes RAD. It may be caused by a combination of factors including environment, genetics, and biology.
RAD symptoms are caused by an increased sensitivity of the airways to certain triggers. These triggers cause tightening of the muscles around the airway. At the same time, the lining of the airways swell and produce excess mucus. All of these reactions narrow the airways and make it difficult to breathe.
Factors that may increase your chance of RAD include:
RAD may cause:
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may ask about possible triggers that were around when you developed symptoms.
Further testing may be done to look for or confirm the presence of allergies or other pulmonary issues. Tests may be done to look for pneumonia, viral infection, smoke inhalation, chemical exposure, or emphysema.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include:
Medications may be used to prevent symptoms or treat a flare up. Options include:
Some of these medications may be delivered with an inhaler or a machine that makes a medicated mist.
Keep a journal of flare ups and what was happening when they occurred. This may help you discover your triggers. When you know your triggers, take steps to avoid them.
Steps that may help you prevent future flare-ups include:
Learn the early warning signs of a flare-up. This will allow you to treat the condition before it worsens. These signs may include wheezing, shortness of breath, and dry cough.
American Academy of Asthma & Immunology
FamilyDoctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
The Asthma Society of Canada
Asthma and reactive airway disease (RAD). Nationwide Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.nationwidechildrens.org/gd/applications/heh/pdf/HH-I-11.pdf. Accessed July 8, 2013.
Benich JJ, Carek PJ. Evaluation of the patient with chronic cough. Am Fam Physician. 2011;84(8):887-892.
Brooks SM, Weiss MA, Bernstein IL. Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS). Persistent asthma syndrome after high level irritant exposures. Chest. 1985;88(3):376-384.
Harber P. Reactive airways disease syndrome. West J Med. 1988;148(1):79.
Platts-Mills T, Leung DYM, Schatz M. The role of allergens in asthma. Am Fam Physician. 2007;76(5):675-680.
Last reviewed September 2015 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.