Reactive airway disease | Symptoms & Causes | Diagnosis

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Reactive airway disease

What is Reactive airway disease?

Reactive airway disease (RAD) in children, is a general term which is used to describe a history of coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath triggered by infection. These signs and symptoms may or may not be caused by asthma. Estimated prevalence is 5% among children aged 1month to 14 years.
Reactive airway disease (RAD) is not a clinical term. ... People with reactive airway disease have bronchial tubes that overreact to some sort of irritant. The term is most commonly used to describe a person who is wheezing or having a bronchial spasm, but who has not yet been diagnosed with asthma.


Like asthma, reactive airway disease often develops after a person has had an infection.

This is when the airways overreact to an irritant, which leads to swelling. Swelling causes the airway to narrow making breathing harder.

Some things that may irritate the airways on their own or when combined include:

  • pet hair
  • smoke
  • dust
  • pollen
  • stress
  • perfume
  • changes in weather
  • mold
  • exercise

Diagnosis & Tests

Healthcare providers will ask you about your child's symptoms. Tell them if your child's symptoms get worse when he is around pets, or smoke. Tell them if the symptoms get worse at night, or in cold air. Tell them if your infant grunts or sucks poorly when he is feeding. If your older child has to miss school, often feels ill, or is too tired to exercise, tell healthcare providers. Your child may need one or more of the following tests to find the cause of his symptoms:

  • Pulse oximeter: A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your child's blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your child's foot, toe, hand, finger, or earlobe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine. Never turn the pulse oximeter or alarm off. An alarm will sound if your child's oxygen level is low or cannot be read.
  • Spirometry: A spirometer measures how well your older child can breathe. He will take a deep breath and then push the air out as fast as he can. This test measures how much air your child is able to push out. This is called forced expiratory volume (FEV). The test results show healthcare providers how small your child's airways have become.
  • Mucus samples: Fluid from your child's nose or throat may be collected and tested. The results may tell healthcare providers what is causing your child's symptoms.
  • Blood tests: Your child may need blood tests to give healthcare providers information about how his body is working. The blood may be taken from your child's arm, hand, finger, foot, heel, or IV.
  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your child's lungs and heart. A chest x-ray may be used to check your child's heart, lungs, and chest wall. It can help healthcare providers diagnose your child's symptoms, or suggest or monitor treatment for medical conditions.

Prevention & Risk Factors

  • Do not let anyone smoke around your child: Cigarette smoke can harm your child's lungs and cause breathing problems. Do not let anyone smoke inside your home. If you smoke, you should quit. You will improve your health and the health of those around you when you quit smoking. Ask your healthcare provider for more information about how to stop smoking if you are having trouble quitting.
  • Keep all follow-up visits: Tell healthcare providers about your child's symptoms. For example, tell them how often and how badly your child is wheezing or coughing. Make sure your child gets all of the vaccines suggested by his healthcare provider.
  • Avoid triggers: A trigger is anything that starts your child's symptoms or makes them worse. If you know that your child is allergic to a certain food, do not let him have it. The allergy can cause his airways to close. This can be life-threatening. Avoid areas where there is pollution, perfume, or dust. Remove pets from your home.
  • Breastfeed your infant: Breast milk helps protect him from allergies that can trigger wheezing and other problems.
  • Help your child get enough exercise and eat healthy foods: Follow healthcare providers' orders for how to manage your child's cough or shortness of breath while he is active. If his symptoms get worse with exercise, he may need to take medicine through an inhaler 10 to 15 minutes before exercise. Give your child healthy foods. Ask your child's healthcare provider what your child should weigh. If he weighs more than his healthcare provider says he should, his symptoms may get worse.
  • Avoid spreading illness: Keep your child away from others if he has a fever or other symptoms. Do not send him to school or daycare until his fever is gone and he is feeling better. Keep your child away from large groups of people or others who are sick. This decreases his chance of getting sick.
  • Make changes to your home: Your child's signs and symptoms may get worse when he is around dust mites, cockroaches, or mold. You can help keep your home free from these triggers. Keep the humidity (moisture level in the air) low. Fix leaks, and remove carpets where possible. Use mattress covers, and wash bedding every 1 to 2 weeks in hot water. Wash tables and other surfaces with weak bleach (1 tablespoon of bleach in a gallon of water).
  • Ask healthcare providers to create an asthma action plan: An asthma action plan may help you and your child manage his RAD symptoms at home. The plan will include signs to watch for that mean your child's symptoms are getting worse. The plan will state what to do if this occurs, and list emergency phone numbers. Your child's triggers will be on the plan so that you both know what to avoid. The plan will list any medicines your child takes. It will also state when your child should see his healthcare provider for a follow-up visit.

Treatments & Therapies

If reactive airway disease is later diagnosed as asthma, then the doctor will recommend treatments to manage this.

This typically involves taking medication to control symptoms in the long-term and using an inhaler to relieve attacks.

If a person has reactive airway disease but the underlying cause is unknown, the best way to reduce symptoms is to avoid the irritant. Allergy medication, such as antihistamines, may also help.

If stress is a trigger, then learning to reduce the effects of this through meditation, relaxation, or breathing exercises may help.

An inhaler may also help reduce symptoms brought on by exercise.