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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.
James T C Li, M.D., Ph.D.
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