What is the difference between asthma and reactive airway disease?

Asthma is the term used to refer to a chronic illness characterized by inflammation of the airways and wheezing. There are different levels of severity of asthma ranging from mild intermittent through severe persistent asthma. Some people with asthma require daily maintenance medications to prevent asthma symptoms, while others only require quick acting medications during times of illness or exacerbation.

Reactive Airway Disease (RAD) occurs usually in children under the age of 3 years when wheezing occurs during a time of illness. RAD is usually triggered by a viral illness such as a cold and causes symptoms similar to an asthma exacerbation. The treatment for RAD is usually the same as it is for an asthma exacerbation including inhaled quick acting medications (Albuterol or Xopenex) and sometimes oral steroids (Prednisolone). The difference between RAD and asthma is that RAD may only occur once when a child is ill and then never happen again. Asthma is diagnosed when wheezing episodes continue to occur (usually after more than 3 episodes).

What causes asthma?

There are many things that may trigger an asthma attack. Learning what triggers your child and avoiding these things can help to prevent asthma attacks. The most common asthma triggers are:

  1. Illness
  2. Seasonal Allergies
  3. Environmental pollutants
  4. Cigarette smoke
  5. Dust mites
  6. Animals
  7. Exercise
  8. Mold
  9. Sudden changes in the weather
  10. Cold/dry air

What is the treatment for asthma?
Mild asthma can often be treated with Albuterol or Xopenex in an inhaler or a nebulizer on an as-needed basis. Both Albuterol and Xopenex are bronchodilators, meaning that they work by decreasing the inflammation and therefore open up the airways helping to alleviate symptoms. 

Sometimes a maintenance medication is used during certain times of the year to help prevent exacerbations. These medications are inhaled corticosteroids such as Pulmicort or Flovent. They work directly on the long tissue to help keep the airways from becoming inflamed. They do not work quickly and cannot be used on an as needed basis. It takes continuous use to benefit from these medications. Many parents worry about giving their child a steroid on a regular basis. It is important to know that these steroids work only on the lung tissue and do not have the systemic side effects seen with daily use of oral steroids. Research has shown that daily use of an inhaled steroid can sometimes lead to slower height growth during the first year of use, but after the first year most children catch up and grow to their maximum potential.

In addition, antihistamines are often used to help prevent asthma exacerbations triggered by allergies.

What is a Peak Flow Meter?

A peak flow meter is an essential tool for any child with asthma. It is an inexpensive device that your child blows in to in order to measure the maximum outflow of air from the lungs. You should know what your child’s ideal peak flow number is and have them use the peak flow meter on a regular basis to see how they are doing. Click here to see what your child’s peak flow value should be.

Please click here to see animated instructions for using a peak flow meter:,w1173

Office Hours
Monday:9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Tuesday:9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Wednesday:9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Thursday:9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Friday:9:00 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturday:10:00 AM - 2:00 PM

Contact Us

Phone: (212) 535-3131
FAX: (212) 535-4159

For non-medical questions: [email protected] For non-urgent medical questions you may email your provider directly: And then you can list all the email addresses from the “Our Providers” page here