I am impressed that you used the term reactive airways disease. Just because a person has wheezing and a cough, it doesnt mean they have asthma. Reactive airways disease means that your bronchial tubes have become more sensitive. They are inflamed causing them to constrict and produce more mucous. If it is temporary, such as after a bad cold, then your airways are reactive but you may not have asthma.
To best answer your question, I assume the reactive airways disease you are asking about is more persistent and is indeed asthma. Your question could be answered two different ways first, with tips for preventing symptoms in people who already have asthma, and second, with ideas that might reduce the chance of a small child developing asthma in the first place.
If you have asthma there are excellent ways to prevent symptoms. The most important is to avoid exposure to allergy triggers. Steps for avoiding triggers include:
- Pollen exposure. Keep windows closed when you sleep at night. Do not dry laundry outside, as pollen can collect on your clothes. Change your clothes after you have been outside for an extended time. Consider an evening shower with a thorough hair rinse before going to bed.
- Dust mite exposure. Encase pillows, mattresses and box springs in allergen-proof materials. Wash your sheets at least once a week in hot water.
- Cockroach exposure. Don't leave food out overnight, and keep food stored in sealed containers. Empty your garbage each evening. Quickly repair leaky pipes, as standing water can attract roaches.
Many people with asthma must use a daily or twice daily inhaled spray to prevent symptoms. The most effective are corticosteroid inhalers.
Can you prevent asthma, or allergies in general, from starting? Some actions might help, but there is no sure way to prevent allergies. Much of your children's risk relates to family history. Having a parent with asthma gives a child a one in four chance of developing the disorder. If both parents are affected, the odds are one in two that the child will be asthmatic. A child can also inherit atopy, a tendency to develop the allergies that underlie many cases of asthma in children.
Consider these strategies that you can control:
- Reduce exposure to smoke. Living with a smoker boosts your odds of being asthmatic. Between 20% and 25% of childhood asthma is linked to at least one parent who smokes. A child whose mother smokes at least a half-pack a day is twice as likely to develop asthma as a child of a nonsmoker. Being born premature may result in lung damage that makes you more susceptible to developing asthma.
- Breastfeed your infant longer than three months. This has been shown to lead to fewer skin allergy (eczema) symptoms.
- Expose children to animals. Kids who live on farms have lower rates of allergy than children who live in cities. This may be because kids around farm animals are exposed to a bacterial protein called "endotoxin" that activates the same IgG antibodies and helper T cells that allergy shots seem to build up. According to one study, children who have daily exposure to cats and dogs during early infancy are less likely to be allergic to cats, dogs, and other allergens later in childhood. (Note: Bringing a pet into your house to protect your child is not recommended for parents who have allergies themselves.)