Reactive airway disease and asthma are typically used interchangeably by doctors and the community at large. The two conditions, however, are not the same thing. Reactive airway disease is typically a term used to describe a nonspecific respiratory condition. Some doctors use the term reactive airway disease when a formal diagnosis of asthma or another respiratory diagnosis cannot be made [source: Mayo Clinic]. Therefore, the terms "reactive airway" and "reactive airway disease" are not valid diagnoses and are criticized for being a junk category for an undiagnosed respiratory condition [source: RCCM].
Reactive airway disease is most common in infants and young children. This is especially the case because the tests used to diagnosis asthma are usually not accurate until a child is 6 years old [source: Mayo Clinic]. Typically, the symptoms of reactive airway disease include vague respiratory distress, such as coughing, wheezing, irritability, sweating, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, fatigue, loss of appetite and nausea. Reactive airway disease can result from three different lung problems. The muscles that surround bronchi can spasm, contract or tighten. The mucous membranes in the lungs can swell. The muscles membranes can produce an excess of mucous.
There are several triggers for the symptoms associated with reactive airway disease. Generally, a child with this condition can experience difficulty breathing and associated symptoms when exposed to mold, dust, mildew, weather changes, cigarette smoke, smoke from a fire, pollen, perfume and other strong odors, pets, excessive physical activity, stress and anxiety. As a parent, it is important to notice the warning signs of an episode and prevent severe symptoms before they start [source: NCH]. Moreover, it is especially important to limit exposure to known triggers whenever possible. There are also various medical treatments for this condition.