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Reactive Airway Disease in Children

Reactive Airway Disease (RAD) is a general term that doesn't indicate a specific diagnosis. It is often mistaken as being another phrase to indicate asthma, but the two are not synonymous. RAD is often used when asthma is suspected but has not been diagnosed due to your child's age. RAD may be used to describe a history of airway troubles, such as coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath caused by allergens.

In fact, asthma can be considered a reactive airway disease, but​ RAD may be used to describe a variety of conditions that have only been loosely defined.

Kinds of Reactive Airway Diseases

Children under the age of 5 are typically diagnosed with RAD, since it can be difficult to come up with a concrete diagnosis of an airway condition at such a young age. Some conditions that may fall under the RAD diagnosis include:

  • Asthma
  • Bronchiolitis (virus that causes wheezing or coughing)
  • Airway hyper responsiveness (quick narrowing of airways)

Risk Factors of Reactive Airway Disease​​​

The risk of developing RAD symptoms increases in your child if he/she:

  • Is not breastfed or is breastfed for less than 3 months
  • Has had a lung infection caused by a virus, such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
  • Has been treated in hospital for bronchiolitis
  • Is exposed to secondhand smoke or had mom smoke during pregnancy
  • Is around anything that can trigger an allergic response (pet dander, pollen, mold)
  • Has a parent, especially mom, with asthma

​Symptoms of Reactive Airway Diseases

The symptoms of RAD are similar to asthma and allergies. It's important to keep a record of the symptoms in order to tell your physician. Symptoms may include:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing often, particularly while laughing or crying
  • Wheezing while breathing
  • Increased heart rate due to breathing difficulties
  • Runny nose
  • Chest tightness

Bear in mind that your child's symptoms may go away in time or be evidence of a long-term airway disorder. It's important to keep your doctor informed as your child ages so a treatment plan can be implemented after a concrete diagnosis is made.


Ear, Nose and Throat