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Reactive Airway Disease—Child

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Reactive Airway Disease—Child



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.

http://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=49204920BQ00030.jpgBQ00030.jpgNULLjpgNose airway to lungsNULL\\filer01a\Intellect\images\BQ00030.jpgNULL11NULL2003-04-163803904920_969962Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


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 mix of things in the 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 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 such as infections or lung issues. Asthma may be diagnosed if symptoms last for more than 6 months.


The goals of treatment are to ease swelling in the airway and prevent future flare-ups. Medicine can help ease swelling when a child has symptoms. One or more of these may be used:

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


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

Stop Flare Ups

Finding triggers can stop more events. Once a person knows what their triggers are, they can be avoided or managed. How to do that will depend on the trigger or allergy.





  • Asthma and reactive airway disease (RAD) (wheezing). Nationwide Children’s website. Available at: https://www.nationwidechildrens.org/conditions/asthma-and-reactive-airway-disease-rad-wheezing.
  • Chronic asthma in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/condition/chronic-asthma-in-children.
  • Reactive Airway Disease in Children. Boys Town National Research Hospital website. Available at: https://www.boystownhospital.org/knowledge-center/reactive-airway-disease-children.
  • Reznik, M., Islamovic, F., et al. Factors associated with in-school physical activity among urban children with asthma. Journal of Asthma, 2018; 55 (5): 492-501.


  • Chelsea Skucek, MSN, BS, RNC-NIC
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.