Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome

Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome, often shortened to RADS, is a term to describe an asthma-like syndrome developing after just a single exposure to high levels of an irritating vapor, fume, or smoke[1].

Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome can also manifest in adults with exposure to high levels of chlorine, ammonia, acetic acid or sulphur dioxide, creating symptoms like asthma. These symptoms can vary from mild to fatal, and can even create long-term airway damage depending on the amount of exposure and the concentration of chlorine. Some experts classify RADS as occupational asthma. Those with exposure to highly irritating substances should receive treatment to mitigate harmful effects.
This syndrome differs hugely from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, shortened to COPD, because that is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. COPD will cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms, such as an early death. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD. Long-term exposure to other lung irritants – such as air pollution, chemical fumes, or dust – also may contribute to COPD.

The main difference is therefore that Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome is a disease that occurs after just a single exposure to some irritants, while Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a disease that occurs after a prolonged exposure to some irritants. Both diseases may ultimately have the same outcome and some research suggests that both are one and the same disease[2].

[1] Brooks et al: Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS). Persistent asthma syndrome after high level irritant exposures in Chest Journal – 1985
[1] Scanlon et al: Smoking cessation and lung function in mild-to-moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The Lung Health Study in American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine - 2000

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