My 2-year-old son was diagnosed with reactive airway disease. Is this just another term for asthma?
Answer 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 might be used to describe a history of coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath triggered by infection. These signs and symptoms might or might not be caused by asthma.
Describing a condition as reactive airway disease in part reflects the difficulty in establishing a diagnosis of asthma in some 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. 09, 2021
- Definition of reactive airway disease. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. https://www.aaaai.org/ask-the-expert/reactive-airways-disease. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.
- Fanta CH. Asthma in adolescents and adults: Evaluation and diagnosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.
- Lei W-T, et al. The effects of macrolides in children with reactive airway disease: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Drug Design, Development and Therapy. 2018; doi:10.2147/DDDT.S183527.
- Sawicki G, et al. Asthma in children younger than 12 years: Initial evaluation and diagnosis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Dec. 8, 2020.