My 2-year-old son was diagnosed with reactive airway disease. Is this just another term for asthma?
Answers from James T C Li, M.D., Ph.D.
Sometimes the terms "reactive airway disease" and "asthma" are used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Often, the term "reactive airway disease" is used when asthma is suspected, but not yet confirmed.
Reactive airway disease in children is a general term that doesn't indicate a specific diagnosis. It may be 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.
Describing a condition as reactive airway disease in part reflects the difficulty in establishing a diagnosis of asthma in certain situations — such as during early childhood. Although it's possible for infants and toddlers to have asthma, tests to diagnose asthma generally aren't accurate before age 5.
Feb. 12, 2016
- Definition of reactive airway disease. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. http://www.aaaai.org/ask-the-expert/reactive-airways-disease.aspx. Accessed Nov. 10, 2015.
- Fanta CH. Diagnosis of asthma in adolescents and adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Nov. 10, 2015.
- Expert Panel report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. 2007. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Bethesda, Md.: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/asthma/asthgdln.htm. Accessed Nov. 10, 2015.