Background: Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS) or irritant-induced asthma is a syndrome that leaves subjects with asthma-like symptoms after one or more exposures to a high concentration of an irritant substance. The degree of reversibility of airway obstruction in subjects with RADS is nevertheless unknown, as is the degree of associated lesions at the airway level.
Methods: We compared the acute reversibility of forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) after inhalation of albuterol (200 micrograms) in 15 subjects with RADS (12 cases caused by chlorine inhalation) with that of 30 subjects with occupational asthma (OA) caused by various agents. They were paired according to baseline airway obstruction (61% and 63% of predicted value in the RADS and OA groups), requirement for medication (bronchodilator only--7 of 15 subjects with RADS and 14 of 30 subjects with OA--as compared with bronchodilator + inhaled steroids in 8 of 15 subjects with RADS and 16 of 30 subjects with OA, respectively), and interval since removal from exposure (means of 30 and 24 months in the RADS and OA groups). In addition, five nonsmokers with RADS who had not received inhaled steroids underwent bronchoscopy with lavage and bronchial biopsies less than 2 years after the exposure.
Results: The percentage increase in FEV1 over baseline after inhalation of albuterol was 10% +/- 9% in the RADS group and 19% +/- 16% in the OA group (p = 0.005). Only 2 of 15 subjects (13%) with RADS and 12 of 30 subjects (40%) with OA showed an improvement in FEV1 of 20% or greater after inhalation of albuterol. Bronchoalveolar lavage showed an increased number of cells with a predominance of lymphocytes, and biopsy specimens showed increased basement membrane thickness in the five subjects with RADS who underwent bronchoscopy.
Conclusion: Subjects with RADS are generally left with less airway reversibility than those with OA. We suggest that this difference is secondary to distinct pathologic changes.