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Home > Services > Pulmonary & Respiratory Care > Lung Conditions > Reactive Airway Disease

Reactive Airway Disease

Reactive airway disease (RAD) is a reversible narrowing of the airways, 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 six months, it may be called asthma.




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It is not clear what causes RAD. It may be caused by a combination of factors including environment, genetics and biology. There is no known way to prevent RAD, since the cause of RAD is not clear.

RAD Symptoms

RAD symptoms result from 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:

  • Family history of reactive airway disease or asthma
  • History of allergies
  • Smoking
  • Obesity

RAD may cause:

  • Coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing

RAD Tests & Treatments

Your healthcare provider will conduct tests to look for pneumonia, viral infection, smoke inhalation, chemical exposure, allergies or emphysema.

Medications that can prevent symptoms or treat a flare up include:

  • Bronchodilators to open the airways
  • Corticosteroid medications to reduce inflammation
  • Mast cell stabilizers or leukotriene inhibitors that can prevent inflammation
  • Combination of these medications

Some of these medications may be delivered with an inhaler or a machine that makes a medicated mist.

Preventing Flare-up

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, like:

  • Take precautions by getting the seasonal flu and pneumonia vaccines
  • If seasonal allergens are a trigger:
    • Keep windows closed when possible; this is especially important during high pollen seasons in late morning and afternoon
    • Talk to you doctor about any adjustments that need to be made to your care plan around allergy season
    • Consider getting allergy shots, if your symptoms are chronic and not responding to other treatments
  • If household dust is a trigger:
    • Have someone else vacuum for you; if you must vacuum, wear a dust mask and consider getting HEPA filters for your vacuum cleaner
    • Use dust cover on mattress or pillows; if you don't have a cover on your pillow, and your pillow is washable, wash it once per week in hot water
    • Wash all towels and linens in hot water
  • Avoid exposure to pets; do not allow pets in the bedroom
  • If chemicals and strong scents are triggers, avoid breathing in chemicals or anything with a strong scent like perfumes or scented candles
  • Be cautious around wood-burning stoves or fireplaces

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.

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.

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