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  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:



Reactive Airway Disease, Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome, Occupational Asthma


Bronchospasm is narrowing of the airways due to a trigger. It is a symptom, not a diagnosis.

Airways to Lungs.

http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=49204920BQ00030.jpgBQ00030.jpgNULLjpgNose airway to lungsNULL\\filer01a\Intellect\images\BQ00030.jpgNULL11NULL2003-04-163803904920_874035Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The narrow airway is caused by muscle spasms around the airway. There is also swelling and increased mucus in the airway. It is triggered by allergens, infections, cold air, or chemicals. The triggers vary from person to person.

It is not clear what causes the tissue to overreact. It may be due to environment, genes, and biology.

Risk Factors

The risk of bronchospasm is higher in people who have:

  • A family history of reactive airway disease or asthma
  • Allergies
  • Jobs with exposure to chemicals, smoke, fumes, or vapors. This may include:
    • Fire fighters, police, and other emergency services workers
    • Cleaners
    • Farmers
    • Welders
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke


Symptoms of bronchospasm may be:

  • Coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Problems breathing


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may ask about things that might have triggered symptoms.

Tests may be done to look for allergies, infections, lung problems, or chemical exposures.


The goal is to ease swelling and symptoms. One or more medicines may be used, such as:

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


Bronchospasms cannot always be prevented. Finding triggers can stop more events. Triggers can be avoided or managed. Steps will depend on the trigger or allergy.





  • Asthma in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/asthma-in-adults-and-adolescents.
  • Chronic cough in adults—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/chronic-cough-in-adults-approach-to-the-patient.
  • Lau A, Tarlo SM. Update on the management of occupational asthma and work-exacerbated asthma. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2019;11(2):188-200.
  • Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome and irritant-induced asthma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/reactive-airways-dysfunction-syndrome-and-irritant-induced-asthma.
  • Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome. Health Navigator New Zealand website. Available at: https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/r/reactive-airways-dysfunction-syndrome.


  • April Scott, NP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.