Asthma is a common medical condition of the airways that affects adults and children. Although relatively easy to diagnose in adults, detecting this condition in infants and children under 6 years of age does not come easy. Having said that, kids and toddlers who exhibit symptoms such as wheezing, coughing or breathlessness (symptoms that mimic asthma) are not given the diagnosis of asthma but a condition named "reactive airway disease".

Some Important Facts

About 30% of children who are diagnosed with reactive airway disease are later found to be suffering from asthma.

The term "reactive airway disease" is used when there is no specific diagnosis. When some symptoms occur that cannot be accurately associated with asthma, doctors generally diagnose infants and toddlers with reactive airway disease. This is because such children are not old enough to participate in asthma diagnostic tests. And even if the tests are done, results are far from being accurate or satisfactory.

There are no specific causes of reactive airway disease. People suffering from this illness may have their respiratory tract swollen due to pulmonary irritants such as smoke or particulates. This causes the narrowing and clogging of the small breathing tubes in the lungs.

Other causes may include heredity, allergy to environmental stimulus, and infection.


The most common symptom is wheezing which occurs when the air passes through the narrow airways.

Breathing becomes fast and shallow, accompanied by dry cough.

Children may also suffer from what is known as chest retractions. This occurs when the child breathes and he/she has the sensation of his/her skin being pulled in between the ribs.

Other symptoms may include cough, and nostril flaring. Kids become lazy or more irritable and may start breathing harder than before.

Infants may not be able to breathe and suck at the same time due to their labored breathing. Coughing may worsen and may seem to persist for a longer period of time.


Most doctors focus more towards addressing the symptoms and the discomfort, rather than putting the affected child on asthma medication.

Medication which may help relieve inflammation and irritation of the airways may be prescribed and advised to be taken for sometime.

Precautions include keeping kids from getting exposed to fumes, smokes and other such irritants. Parents must watch out for any kind of interactions which might occur while taking other types of medicines. It is important for parents to seek advice from a doctor before going for any kind of drugs.

Reactive Airway Disease vs Asthma

As mentioned earlier, the symptoms of reactive airway disease are often mistaken to be those of asthma. However, the conditions differ from each other in some aspects.

» Reactive airway disease can be triggered by a single exposure to pulmonary irritants.
» Asthma is closely associated with repeated or continuous exposure to allergens or irritants.

» Usually, when a person gets exposed to significantly high levels of pulmonary irritants, they develop reactive airway disease.
» Doctors relate asthma to prolonged exposure to substances that are low in sensitivity.

» Reactive airway disease does not make a person develop a particular sensitivity to the causative agent of the condition.
» Most asthmatic people remain sensitive to a particular trigger that set off the attack in the first place.

Reactive airway disease is generally a non-specific term which may indicate a number of other diseases such as wheezy bronchitis, viral bronchitis, pneumonia, or even asthma itself. As these illnesses may not be diagnosed accurately in small children, doctors usually relate the occurring symptoms to reactive airway disease until otherwise determined. The best way to counter such kind of disease is to keep an eye on the occurrence of any such symptoms in your children and to seek medical help at the earliest.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.