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Reactive Airways Disease


Reactive airways disease (RAD) is a term used to describe breathing problems in children up to 5 years old. The signs and symptoms of RAD are similar to asthma, such as wheezing and shortness of breath.



  • Short-acting bronchodilators: Your child may need short-acting bronchodilators to help open his airways quickly. They relieve sudden, severe symptoms and start to work right away.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators: Your child may need long-acting bronchodilators to help prevent breathing problems. They control breathing problems by keeping the airways open over time.
  • Corticosteroids: These medicines help decrease swelling and open your child's airway so he can breathe easier. Your child may breathe the medicine in or swallow it as a liquid, pill, or chewable tablet.
  • Give your child's medicine as directed. Contact your child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him or her if your child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs your child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry your child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.
  • Do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age. Your child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.


  • Metered dose inhaler: This is a small, tube-shaped device. Your child holds the open end inside his mouth. The medicine comes out as a mist when he presses a switch. Your child should breathe in deeply to get the right amount of medicine. He may use a spacer with this inhaler. A spacer is a large tube that holds the mist before your child breathes it in.
    Inhaler with Spacer (Child)
  • Nebulizer: A long tube goes from the machine to a small round container that holds asthma medicine. The liquid turns into a mist once the machine is turned on. Your child breathes in this mist through a mouthpiece.
  • Dry powder inhaler: This is a small tube or disc-shaped device that contains powder asthma medicine. Your child holds the open end inside his mouth. The powder is released when he presses a switch. With this type of inhaler, your child must breathe in hard to suck in the powder.


  • Use a humidifier: A humidifier will increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for your child to breathe. Keep humidifiers out of the reach of children.
  • No smoking: Do not let anyone smoke around your child or in your home. Cigarette smoke can affect your child's lungs and cause breathing problems.
  • Avoid triggers: Certain foods, pollution, perfume, mold, pets, or dust can cause breathing problems.
  • Manage your child's symptoms: Follow directions for how to manage your child's cough or shortness of breath while he is active. If his symptoms get worse with exercise, he may need to take medicine through an inhaler 10 to 15 minutes before exercise.
  • Avoid spreading illness: Keep your child away from others if he has a fever or other symptoms. Do not send him to school or daycare until his fever is gone and he is feeling better. Keep your child away from large groups of people or others who are sick. This decreases his chance of getting sick.

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your child's visits.

Contact your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child is shaky, nervous, or has a headache.
  • Your child is hoarse, or has a sore throat or upset stomach.
  • Your infant throws up when he coughs.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • Your child's wheezing or cough is getting worse.
  • Your child has trouble breathing, or his lips or fingernails are blue.
  • Your older child cannot talk in full sentences because he is trying to breathe.
  • Your child looks restless and is breathing fast.
  • Your child's nostrils flare out as he tries to breathe. His stomach muscles or the skin over his ribs move in deeply while he tries to breathe.
  • Your child goes from being restless to being confused or sleepy.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

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