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Causes And Presenting Features Of Reactive Airway Disease

What is a Reactive Airway Disease?

Reactive Airway Disease is not a medical condition but is rather a generic term used to describe a collection of symptoms that arise when the bronchial tubes in the lungs become irritated on exposure to certain allergens. This irritation leads to difficulty breathing and other asthma like symptoms. Reactive Airway Disease in most cases is diagnosed when the physicians are not sure as to what exactly is causing the symptoms. In fact, any condition that causes symptoms of a respiratory illness can come under the umbrella of Reactive Airway Disease. There may be many different conditions that can be considered as Reactive Airway Disease, namely COPD, asthma, and infection of the airways.[1]

This name is widely used in pediatrics where in most cases the exact diagnosis becomes difficult to pinpoint due to the similarity of the symptoms in that the child will experience symptoms similar to asthma but is not old enough to undergo the various diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis. Due to the vagueness of the term, many physicians want to do away with the term Reactive Airway Disease as it may cause severe confusion as to the exact diagnosis of the patient. They are of the opinion that only when a diagnosis is finalized that a name should be given to the condition.[1]

What is a Reactive Airway Disease?

In fact, an article published in a journal in 2001 described the term Reactive Airway Disease as having no meaning and should be done away with. However, there are many physicians that still use the term Reactive Airway Disease until they arrive at a confirmed diagnosis. This article explains the presenting features and the causes that come under Reactive Airway Disease.[1]

Causes And Presenting Features Of Reactive Airway Disease

Quite similar to asthma, the symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease develop after an infection to the respiratory system. This usually occurs when the airways become irritated on exposure to irritants which can be environmental or internal. This results in the airways to swell thus making them narrow and making it difficult for the patient to breathe normally.[2]

Some of the environmental irritants that can cause symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease include exposure to pet hair and dander, fumes of smoke, exposure to dust and pollen. There are also certain perfumes to which an individual is allergic to and on exposure to which symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease can develop. Climatic change and stress of daily life also plays a factor in individual developing symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease.[2]

There are also certain risk factors which make an individual vulnerable to develop symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease. These risk factors include cigarette smoke which is perhaps the most common irritant. When the cigarette smoke is inhaled then it severely irritates the airways increasing the risk of Reactive Airway Disease. If this is done on a continuous basis then the individual becomes increasingly vulnerable to developing COPD. Chronic smokers have a 50% more chance of developing COPD later in life than nonsmokers.[2]

In majority of the cases, Reactive Airway Disease is later diagnosed as asthma. This is why the symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease are exceedingly similar to asthma. The presenting features include bouts of severe coughing along with audible wheezing. The patient will have difficulty breathing and the airways will be filled with mucous. The airways will be extremely sensitive and will get irritated even when minimally exposed to irritants causing coughing and problems with breathing.[2]

Treatment Of Reactive Airway Disease

With regard to treatment options for Reactive Airway Disease, if it is later on confirmatively diagnosed as asthma, the treatment will be aimed at managing the symptoms of asthma. This is mostly done in the form of medications for short term relief and bronchodilators to prevent future attacks of asthma. In cases where the cause of Reactive Airway Disease is unidentified then the best way to treat the symptoms is to stay away from irritants and allergens. The physician may also prescribe antihistamines to prevent flares of allergic reactions.[2]

If stress is believed to be the cause of the symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease, then coping through healthful means in the form of meditation or yoga is the best way to treat the condition. If there is a flare-up of symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease when exercising then in most cases an inhaler is given for treatment. In case if the wheezing and the cough do not resolve with treatment then a consultation with a physician is recommended.[2]

This is to carry out further tests to identify a cause for the condition and formulate a treatment plan. For cases of problems with breathing, it is always better to go to the emergency room for spot treatment and prevent any untoward complications.[2]

In conclusion, Reactive Airway Disease is not a medical condition but is rather a term that describes a collection of symptoms that irritates the airways on exposure to environmental allergens. Physicians term a condition as Reactive Airway Disease if they are unsure of the exact diagnosis. Many physicians are of the belief that this term Reactive Airway Disease should be done away with due to what they believe is confusion created in the mind with regard to the exact diagnosis.[1, 2]

The symptoms caused by Reactive Airway Disease are quite similar to many disorders of the lungs and thus making an exact diagnosis is at times quite difficult. This is especially in cases of children where pinpointing a diagnosis without the help of many diagnostic tools becomes very difficult. However, once a diagnosis has been established then treating the condition becomes quite easy.[2]

If asthma is believed to be the cause then treating it with medications and bronchodilators are quite effective. For allergies as a cause of symptoms of Reactive Airway Disease avoiding the potential allergens and taking antihistamines is the best way to manage the condition. For Reactive Airway Disease symptoms related to stress, yoga and meditation are quite effective in managing the symptoms.[2]

Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing is an emergent medical condition that can be caused due to Reactive Airway Disease. This should be checked immediately in the emergency room and treated to prevent any unwarranted complications.[2]


Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 14, 2019

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