Difference Between Asthma and Reactive Airway Disease

Asthma and Reactive Airway Disease (RAD) are two medical conditions that are commonly confused with one another due to their similarities in symptoms, causes and treatments. However, these two conditions are not the same, and it is important to understand the differences between them to provide accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans.

What is Asthma?

In those with asthma, persistent inflammation causes a narrowing of the airways (bronchi). Both children and adults are vulnerable to this issue.

Symptoms − Common signs and symptoms include wheezing, coughing, and chest discomfort. In extreme circumstances, there may also be significant difficulty breathing, which may worsen over time.

Diagnosis − The condition can be diagnosed with the use of a physical examination and pulmonary function tests that demonstrate airflow restriction. Eosinophils are a kind of white blood cell that can be detected in blood tests when they are present in excess of their usual range.

Causes − Asthma may be brought on by a variety of conditions, and it does appear that genetics have a role. Environmental and dietary allergens have both been implicated as possible triggers for asthma attacks.

Risk factors and complications − Asthma appears to run in families, so having a parent or sibling with the condition raises your odds of developing it yourself. Smoking and being exposed to environmental allergens or chemical irritants can raise the risk. Individuals who are obese are also at higher risk of having the illness. Asthma may be deadly, so it's important to get treatment and keep it under control.

Prevention and treatment − There should be no exposure to environmental substances that might potentially precipitate an assault. Asthma attacks can be averted by taking precautions such as obtaining a flu shot and avoiding contact with ill individuals. Inhalers containing bronchodilators are commonly used to treat people with asthma. Adding corticosteroid drugs can be helpful since they reduce airway inflammation.

What is Reactive Airway Disease?

Reactive Airway Disease (RAD), on the other hand, is a temporary condition that occurs when the airways in the lungs become narrowed and inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. RAD can occur as a result of exposure to environmental irritants, such as pollutants, smoke or chemicals.

Unlike asthma, RAD is not a chronic condition and usually resolves on its own within a few days or weeks.

Differences: Asthma and Reactive Airway Disease

The differences between Asthma and RAD can also be seen in their symptoms. Asthma symptoms can persist even when the person is not exposed to any triggers, while RAD symptoms are usually temporary and go away once the person is removed from the triggering environment. Asthma symptoms can also worsen over time, while RAD symptoms generally do not. Additionally, people with asthma may experience symptoms even when they are not active, while RAD symptoms are often more noticeable when the person is physically active.

In terms of treatment, Asthma is managed through a combination of medications, lifestyle changes and environmental control measures. Medications such as inhaled corticosteroids and bronchodilators are used to reduce inflammation and increase air flow in the airways. Lifestyle changes such as avoiding triggers, reducing stress, and regular exercise can also help manage asthma symptoms.

RAD, on the other hand, can be treated by avoiding environmental irritants, using inhaled bronchodilators to open the airways, and using oral steroids for severe cases. RAD does not require long-term treatment as the symptoms usually resolve on their own.

The following table highlights the major differences between Asthma and Reactive Airway Disease −



Reactive Airway Disease


Definition Asthma is a condition in which there is an inflammatory response of the airways. Reactive airway disease is a general term to describe some condition in which the bronchial tubes and air passages are irritated.

Definition Asthma is a condition in which there is an inflammatory response of the airways. Reactive airway disease is a general term to describe some condition in which the bronchial tubes and air passages are irritated.

Duration of the condition

Duration of the condition Asthma is always a long-lasting and chronic disorder that does not go away.

Reactive airway disease usually only happens once, and thus is classified as an acute condition.


The tests used to diagnose asthma include spirometry, lung challenge tests, and blood tests looking at eosinophil concentrations.

Usually, reactive airway disease is diagnosed by the physical symptoms the patient has.

Age when diagnosis can be made

Asthma is difficult to accurately diagnose before the age of 5 years.

Reactive airway disease can be diagnosed or used as a term to describe the condition and symptoms when a person is younger than 5 years or at any age.


Treatment for asthma frequently requires the use of bronchodilators, inhalers, and corticosteroids.

Treatment for reactive airway disease includes the elimination of irritants and sometimes the use of inhalers.


Asthma and RAD are two distinct medical conditions that affect the airways in the lungs. While they share some similarities in symptoms and treatment, they are not the same and require different approaches to management.

Understanding the differences between Asthma and RAD can help healthcare providers provide accurate diagnoses and effective treatment plans for their patients.

Updated on: 10-Apr-2023


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