What is RADS?

So I’ve mentioned being diagnosed with RADS and the impact that has had on my life a few times in my posts. While I’ve provided links to materials on RADS I haven’t ever really explained what it is.

So here goes…

RADS stands for Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome. It’s not very well-known about or understood. Some people refer to it as occupational asthma, which is not actually correct.

The reason for this is that RADS is always triggered by an exposure to an irritant. The kind of irritant needed to cause RADS is usually one found in the workplace through such things as chemical exposures.

In my case, unusually, it was a citrus-based spray that was inadvertently used within inches of my head. Given that I have a life threatening allergy to citrus and went into an extremely fast and severe anaphylactic reaction immediately my allergist believes that this was enough to be the trigger for me.

RADS is not Reactive Airways Disease. This is a term commonly used by doctors to describe wheezing and allergic issues in infants and young children until they grow old enough to either grow out of it or their symptoms are confirmed as asthma.

RADS is also not asthma. Asthma involves the immune system. RADS does not. Asthma medication will also not help people suffering from RADS.

The diagnosis of RADS is based on 5 criteria:

“1. Must have no immediate complaints of previous respiratory ailments
2. Onset of symptoms after a single event or accident
3. Exposure to high concentration of irritants and caustic fumes
4. With cough, wheezing and dyspnea (difficulty of breathing)
5. Presence of obstruction in airways with or without bronchial hypersensitivity”

So what exactly is RADS then:

“Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome or RADS is a term proposed by Stuart M. Brooks M.D. and colleagues in 1985 to describe an asthma-like syndrome developing after a single exposure to high levels of an irritating vapor, fume, or smoke. “

So basically it looks and feels like asthma, won’t respond to asthma medication and once you have it, it can be triggered by almost anything. Especially if you have the hypersensitivity version, that I do.

The only treatment is avoidance of triggers and time. Pretty much any strong scent can be a trigger for RADS. High dose vitamin D has been helpful in some cases. I actually already take 3 times the high dose recommended because of my Osteogensis Imperfecta.

Unfortunately there is very little research into this syndrome. In fact a search of the American Thoracic Society journals finds just one published paper from 2003 that looks at this condition specifically.

From the little research there is, RADS can go into remission after 6-24 months, if it’s not permanent.

In my case my RADS is complicated by my having pre-existing severe asthma and multiple allergies/anaphylaxis.

Hopefully, the recently diagnosed  vocal cord dysfunction/functional dysphonia will not be a factor much longer if my speech language pathologist’s treatment is as successful as she predicts.

So there you have it: RADS looks and feels a lot like asthma, but it isn’t asthma! Once you have RADS, it can be triggered by almost any strong scent, and just to complicate the situation further RADS can then cause an asthmatic and/or allergic response.

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