What is Reactive Airway Disease and How Is It Treated ?

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Reactive Airway Disease, or RAD for short, is a term medical professionals sometimes use when they suspect a patient has asthma, but the condition isn’t conclusively confirmed. The term is used most regularly to indicate that a patient is having a bronchial spasm or is wheezing, but again, has not been diagnosed yet with asthma.

What is Reactive Airway Disease

There’s a reason why you might not be familiar with the name. RAD isn’t a clinical term by itself. Some medical professionals actually debate over its use due to it not having a clear definition and because it may also describe other terms.

But, other doctors do use it often in the same manner they use the term asthma. They’re quite similar. But, doctors use the term typically until they can make an official asthma diagnosis. In other words, RAD is used as a sort of “placeholder” term until asthma is diagnosed.

Individuals with RAD have overreacting bronchial tubes caused by some type of irritant. RAD is commonly used for describing individuals who are having bronchial spasms or are wheezing, but haven’t yet received the official asthma diagnosis. Many children, who wheeze, particularly infants, don’t get asthma.

The term RAD is often used more in cases involving younger kids since it’s hard at times for doctors to use diagnostic techniques in children for asthma if they’re younger than five years old. Because of this, physicians use the term reactive airway disease until it comes time for an asthma diagnosis. But, they don’t call the condition asthma until they can confirm a diagnosis.

You or your child may have RAD if you’re experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sputum production (mucus and saliva from your respiratory tract)
  • Muscle tightening in the throat

Additionally, a few main changes are occurring in your lungs when you have RAD.

You have increased mucus with inflamed and irritated airways. This causes your airway cells to produce mucus. When this happens, it can clog up your lung airways and make it hard to breathe. You may also have swelling and inflammation. If a bee were to sting your arm, it would swell due to the irritation. The same thing happens with your lung airways — they’re irritated, they swell and become inflamed when you’re having an episode.

If you or your child has symptoms that persist longer than a six month period, there’s an increased risk of the condition becoming chronic leading to poor quality of life and a lack of effective treatments.

Describing a condition like RAD may reflect the challenge of coming up with an asthma diagnosis in certain circumstances like early childhood. Even though toddlers and infants can get asthma, any testing done for it may not be accurate because of their age.

Triggers of RAD

RAD, similar to asthma, usually happens once you have had an infection. Irritants trigger the overreaction of your airways, which can narrow and swell. Some irritants or causes of RAD may include:

  • Dust
  • Dander or pet hair
  • Exercise
  • Smoke
  • Mildew or mold
  • Stress
  • Changes in the weather
  • Strong odors like perfume

A combination of a couple irritants may cause RAD too.

How Reactive Airway Disease is Treated

Your doctor will do some testing to ensure you don’t have things like:

  • A viral infection
  • Pneumonia
  • Chemical exposure
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Emphysema
  • Allergies

There are medications that may treat flare-ups and prevent symptoms such as:

  • Corticosteroid medications (reduces inflammation)
  • Bronchodilators (opens airways)
  • Leukotriene inhibitors or mast cell stabilizers (prevents inflammation)

The doctor may combine some of these medications. Some may come through a machine that blows out a medicated mist while others come in an inhaler.

In one study, high-dose Vitamin D was a successful RAD treatment.

If you’re looking for treatment for your little one or yourself, you should do some research on this tricky condition. You have a right to be a big part of your child’s care. Therefore, ask a lot of questions from the doctor and discuss the different treatment options to help both you and the doctor decide on the best course of treatment for your child with RAD.


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