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by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Reactive Airway Disease, Reactive Airways Dysfunction Syndrome, Occupational Asthma

Definition

Bronchospasm is narrowing of the airways due to a trigger. It is a symptom, not a diagnosis.

Airways to Lungs
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Causes

The narrow airway is caused by muscle spasms around the airway. There is also swelling and increased mucus in the airway. It is triggered by allergens, infections, cold air, or chemicals. The triggers vary from person to person.

It is not clear what causes the tissue to overreact. It may be due to environment, genes, and biology.

Risk Factors

The risk of bronchospasm is higher in people who have:

  • A family history of reactive airway disease or asthma
  • Allergies
  • Jobs with exposure to chemicals, smoke, fumes, or vapors. This may include:
    • Fire fighters, police, and other emergency services workers
    • Cleaners
    • Farmers
    • Welders
  • Exposure to cigarette smoke

Symptoms

Symptoms of bronchospasm may be:

  • Coughing
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Problems breathing

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may ask about things that might have triggered symptoms.

Tests may be done to look for allergies, infections, lung problems, or chemical exposures.

Treatment

The goal is to ease swelling and symptoms. One or more medicines may be used, such as:

  • Bronchodilators—to open the airways
  • Corticosteroids—to ease inflammation
  • Mast cell stabilizers or leukotriene inhibitors—to prevent inflammation

Prevention

Bronchospasms cannot always be prevented. Finding triggers can stop more events. Triggers can be avoided or managed. Steps will depend on the trigger or allergy.

RESOURCES

American Academy of Asthma & Immunology  http://www.aaaai.org 

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians  http://familydoctor.org 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

The Asthma Society of Canada  http://www.asthma.ca 

Health Canada  https://www.canada.ca  

References

Asthma in adults and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/asthma-in-adults-and-adolescents. Accessed July 27, 2021.

Chronic cough in adults—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/chronic-cough-in-adults-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed July 27, 2021.

Lau A, Tarlo SM. Update on the management of occupational asthma and work-exacerbated asthma. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res. 2019;11(2):188-200.

Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome and irritant-induced asthma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/reactive-airways-dysfunction-syndrome-and-irritant-induced-asthma. Accessed July 27, 2021.

Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome. Health Navigator New Zealand website. Available at: https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/health-a-z/r/reactive-airways-dysfunction-syndrome/. Accessed July 27, 2021.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Dan Ostrovsky, MD
  • Review Date: 07/2021
  • Update Date: 07/27/2021