Reactive Airway Disease—Child


Ree-Ac-Tiv Air-Way Disease


Bronchospasm is a narrowing of the airways after contact with a trigger. Bronchospasm is a symptom, not a diagnosis. The overreaction of the airway to a trigger may be called reactive airway disease. It is a term that may be used for a 1-time event or as a holder until a diagnosis can be made.

Airways to Lungs

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The narrow airway is caused by a spasm of muscles around the airway, swelling, and increased mucus. It is triggered by allergens, infections, cold air, or chemicals. The exact trigger varies from person to person.

It is not clear what causes the tissue to overreact. It may be a combination of things in environment, genetics, and biology.

Risk Factors

The risk of bronchospasm is higher in children with:

  • Family history of reactive airway disease or asthma
  • History of allergies
  • Obesity


Bronchospasm can cause:

  • Coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hard time breathing


The doctor will ask about child’s symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may be done to look for possible allergies. Other tests will be done to look for possible causes including infections or lung issues. Asthma may be diagnosed if symptoms last for more than 6 months.


Medicine can help to ease swelling when symptoms are present. One or more of these may be used:

  • Bronchodilators to open the airways
  • Corticosteroids to ease inflammation
  • Mast cell stabilizers or leukotriene inhibitors to prevent inflammation

Stop Flare Ups

Finding triggers can stop more events. Triggers can be avoided or managed. Steps will depend on the trigger or allergy.


It is not clear why some people have this reaction. This means there are no steps to prevent it.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatricians


About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children


Asthma and reactive airway disease (RAD) (wheezing). Nationwide Children’s website. Available at:
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Accessed August 22, 2020.
Asthma in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed August 22, 2020.
Reactive Airway Disease in Children. Boys Town National Research Hospital website. Available at: Accessed August 22, 2020.
Reactive Airway Disease in Children. Kaiser Permanente website. Available at:!ut/p/a1/hc7BboJAEAbgp-GoM4BS7A1tBKSgbU2lXJoFRiCuuwTWEvv0BeuhTdo4t8l88-eHBGJIBPuoCqYqKRgf9sR6X65e1vO57qDrekv0vQdXD3TXQNuCHSTQC_xnHBzuPyPWk5mNfrjwFn4UILrGFWwc9O0Qpzo6poW-tTWDuzDS0Z1cAZr-03eJjYW9DbbB6ywwEQ1YQVJwmV76vpVK1fcaaphJoUiohkRODTVaX4XLjHGCmMTo1N7CTJ3r3pbEuCpHJLJzxmVNecVufZZdlUN82tto4GAdkZp2AUlD-4GMT03fdAhoLwld140LKQtO40wetT9fStkqiH9LiDx5JKgPh2fv85F2tpqmZ7P7AmEp7Vo!/dl5/d5/L2dBISEvZ0FBIS9nQSEh/. Accessed August 22, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC

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