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Reactive airway disease
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Reactive airway disease

Is reactive airway disease the same as asthma?  For the past twenty to twenty five years (I am now 52), I have had "reactive airway" symptoms triggered by upper respiratory infections.  Sometimes a cold or sinus infection just remain a mild nuisance but at other times, I end up on inhallers.  Last night (5am) I woke up feeling as if I was choking on mucous.  I had the worst coughing fit ever.  Once the coughing subsided, you could hear an audible wheeze with just about every breath.  I was planning on trying to go into work and if I continued to have breathing problems run over to the doctor.  My husband, who normally is not alarmed by health issues insited that we go to the emergency room.  When I got to the hospital, my pulse ox was about 91.  They gave me an oxygen mask for about thirty minutes to bring the oxygen levels up and then over a period of six hours gave me three breathing treatments and prednisone before discharging me.  The gave my RX for rescue inhallers, RX cough medicine and short burst prednisone.  Since comming home,  I have a mild occasional cough - maybe seven or eight times an hour, very sore throat, headache and feel somewhat short of breath if I go down the steps etc. I have follow up appointemnt with my dr tomorrow.  In  the past, I could tell when I was starting to get bronchiospasms and would have enough time to get into the doctor before they got real bad.  This was the first time that I ended up in the emergency room.....quite scary.  

Are these symptoms typical of reactive airways?

I still think that I could have waited five or six hours to see my doctor.  How do you know when you should go to the ER vs wait to see the doctor?
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The terms, reactive airways disease (RAD) and asthma, are often used interchangeably.  Asthma is the more specific and inclusive term and reactive airways is a major feature of asthma, for almost all individuals with the disease.  The term reactive airways describes a characteristic of one's airways, seen most commonly with asthma but also seen with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), in which one's airways respond to infection, allergens or irritants with increased mucus and bronchial constriction at doses or concentrations that would have little or no effect on the airways of people with normally responsive airways.  Thus, the other term used to describe reactive airways is that they are, hyperreactive, referred to as bronchial hyperreactivity.

Your concern about the most recent asthma exacerbation that led to an emergency room (ER) visit is warranted.  Asthma severity and degree of control, characteristically varies over time, often over years.  What happened this time suggests that you either had a more severe infection than usual or that your airways have become more responsive to infection.  In either event, the response of you and your doctor should be to quickly regain control of your airways with prednisone, in addition to a program of regular medicine, to include an inhaled corticosteroid for no less than 3 to 6 months.

Keep in mind that acid reflux, also referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is common, is a frequent cause of asthma worsening and often occurs at night.  You should discuss with your doctor, if GERD might have been a factor, in this most recent episode.

This was scary but remember, asthma is a treatable, controllable disease and once it is controlled, you should be able to lead a normal life, without fear of awakening choking and short of breath, again.

Good luck.
3 Comments
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Reactive airway disease is a term they use when asthma or some other similar disease is not specifically diagnosed.

I encourage you to see a pulmonogist for testing to more clearly define your disease and perhaps get you on some maintenance meds.  Then you can also discuss when you need to go to the ER.

I raised two kids with asthma & have lung issues myself.  At the recommendation of our Dr. we purchased a nebulizer--the machine they used in the ER to give you the breathing treatments.  It delivers the same medicines available by inhaler, but more effectively.  It has kept us out of the ER countless times.
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I was able to locate a peak flow meter that I had been given a few years ago when I went through a tough season.  When I did my peak flow tonight, the best reading I got was 300.  According to charts, my peak flow should be around 450.  I am pretty sure normal for me was 450- 500.  I am NOT having any trouble breathing now, however If I speak a lot or am too active around the house, the coughing kicks in with a vengance.  I just feel the tightness in my chest and have that headache and sore ribs from coughing.  What peak flow numbers should be a reason for concern?
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