Resource Center

Glossary

A-B C-D E-G H-K L-O P-R S-T U-Z

A-B

Allergen

A substance (such as a food or pollen) that your body perceives as dangerous and can cause an allergic reaction.

Allergy

An exaggerated response to a substance or condition produced by the release of histamine or histamine-like substances in affected cells.

Alveoli

Thin-walled, small sacs located at the ends of the smallest airways in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide takes place.

Antibiotic

Medication used to treat infection caused by bacteria. Antibiotics do not protect against viruses and do not prevent the common cold.

Anticholinergics

This type of medicine relaxes the muscle bands that tighten around the airways. This action opens the airways, letting more air out of the lungs to improve breathing. Anticholinergics also help clear mucus from the lungs. (They are also called cholinergic blockers or "maintenance" bronchodilators.)

Antihistamine

Medication that stops the action of histamine, which causes symptoms of allergy, such as itching and swelling.

Anti-inflammatory

Medication that reduces inflammation (swelling in the airway and mucus production).

Asthma

A disease of the airways or branches of the lung (bronchial tubes) that carry air in and out of the lungs. Asthma causes the airways to narrow, the lining of the airways to swell and the cells that line the airways to produce more mucus. These changes make breathing difficult and cause a feeling of not getting enough air into the lungs. Common symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and excess mucus production.

Bacteria

Infectious organisms that may cause sinusitis, bronchitis or pneumonia.

Beta-agonists

A bronchodilator medication that opens the airways of the lung by relaxing the muscles around the airways that have tightened (bronchospasm). These medications may be short-acting (quick-relief) or long-acting (control) medications. Short-acting beta-agonists are the medications used to relieve asthma symptoms when they occur.

Breath sounds

Lung sounds heard through a stethoscope.

Breathing rate

The number of breaths per minute.

Bronchial tubes

Airways in the lung that branch from the trachea (windpipe).

Bronchioles

The smallest branches of the airways in the lungs. They connect to the alveoli (air sacs).

Bronchodilator

A medication that relaxes the muscle bands that tighten around the airways. Bronchodilators also help clear mucus from the lungs.

Bronchospasm

The tightening of the muscle bands that surround the airways, causing the airways to narrow.

C-D

Carbon dioxide

A colorless, odorless gas that is formed in the tissues and is delivered to the lungs to be exhaled.

Chronic disease

A disease that can be controlled, but not cured.

Cilia

Hair-like structures that line the airways in the lungs and help to clean out the airways.

Clinical trials

Research programs conducted with patients to evaluate a new medical treatment, drug or device. The purpose of clinical trials is to find new and improved methods of treating different diseases and special conditions.

Contraindication

A reason not to use a course of treatment or medication.

Dander, animal

Tiny scales shed from animal skin or hair. Dander floats in the air, settles on surfaces and is a major part of household dust. Cat dander is a classic cause of allergic reactions.

Decongestant

Medication that shrinks swollen nasal tissues to relieve symptoms of nasal swelling, congestion and mucus secretion.

Dehydration

Excessive loss of water.

Diaphragm

The major muscle of breathing, located at the base of the lungs.

Dry powder inhaler (DPI)

A device for inhaling respiratory medications that come in powder form.

Dust mites

A common trigger for allergies.

Dyspnea

Shortness of breath.

E-G

Exacerbation

Worsening.

Exercise-induced asthma

Asthma that is made worse when exercising.

Exhalation

Breathing air out of the lungs.

H-K

High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter

A filter that removes particles in the air by forcing it through screens containing microscopic pores.

Histamine

A naturally occurring substance that is released by the immune system after being exposed to an allergen. When you inhale an allergen, mast cells located in the nose and lungs release histamine. Histamine then attaches to receptors on nearby blood vessels, causing them to enlarge (dilate). Histamine also binds to other receptors located in nasal tissues, causing redness, swelling, itching and changes in the secretions.

Holding chamber

See spacer.

Humidification

The act of moisturizing the air with molecules of water.

Hyperventilation

Excessive rate and depth of breathing.

Immune system

The body's defense system that protects us against infections and foreign substances.

Indication

Reason to use.

Inflammation

A response in the body that includes swelling and redness.

Inhaler

See metered-dose inhaler (MDI).

Inhalation

Breathing air into the lungs.

Irritants

Things that bother the nose, throat or airways when they are inhaled (not an allergen).

L-O

Leukotriene modifier

Medication that blocks chemicals called leukotrienes in the airways. Leukotrienes occur naturally in the body and cause tightening of airway muscles and production of excess mucus and fluid. Leukotriene modifiers work by blocking leukotrienes and decreasing these reactions. These medications are also helpful in improving airflow and reducing some chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms.

Medical history

A list of a person's previous illnesses, present conditions, symptoms, medications and health risk factors.

Metered-dose inhaler (MDI)

Small aerosol canister in a plastic container that releases a mist of medication when pressed down from the top. This medication can be breathed into the airways. Many asthma medications are taken using an MDI.

Mold

Parasitic, microscopic fungi (like penicillin) with spores that float in the air like pollen. Mold is a common trigger for allergies and can be found in damp areas, such as the basement or bathroom, as well as in the outdoor environment in grass, leaf piles, hay, mulch or under mushrooms.

Monitoring

Keeping track of.

Mucus

A material produced by glands in the airways, nose, and sinuses. Mucus cleans and protects certain parts of the body, such as the lungs.

Nasal spray

Medication used to prevent and treat nasal allergy symptoms. Available by prescription or over-the-counter in decongestant, corticosteroid or salt-water solution form.

Nebulizer

A machine that changes liquid medicine into fine droplets (in aerosol or mist form) that are inhaled through a mouthpiece or mask. Nebulizers can be used to deliver bronchodilator (airway-opening) medications, such as Albuterol and Atrovent, as well as anti-inflammatory medicines (pulmicort respules). A nebulizer may be used instead of a metered-dose inhaler (MDI). It is powered by a compressed air machine and plugs into an electrical outlet.

Non-steroidal

Anti-inflammatory medication that is not a steroid. Also see steroid.

Oxygen

The essential element in the respiration process to sustain life. This colorless, odorless gas makes up about 21 percent of the air.

P-R

Peak expiratory flow rate

A test used to measure how fast air can be exhaled from the lungs.

Peak flow meter

A small hand-held device that measures how fast air comes out of the lungs when a person exhales forcefully. This measurement is called a peak expiratory flow (PEF) and is measured in liters per minute (LPM). A person's PEF may drop hours or even days before asthma symptoms are noticeable. Readings from the meter can help the patient recognize early changes that may be signs of worsening asthma. A peak flow meter can also help the patient learn what triggers his or her symptoms and understand what symptoms indicate that emergency care is needed. Peak flow readings also help the doctor decide when to stop or add medications.

Personal best peak expiratory flow (PEF)

The highest peak flow number a person can achieve when symptoms are under good control. The personal best PEF is the number to which all other peak flow readings will be compared. In children, peak expiratory flow rates are based on how tall the child is. Therefore, the personal best peak expiratory flow will change as growth occurs. A child's personal best peak expiratory flow should be redetermined approximately every six months or when a growth spurt has occurred.

Pneumonia

An infection of the lung, which may be located in only one area.

Pollen

A fine, powdery substance released by plants and trees; an allergen.

Pollen and mold counts

A measure of the amount of allergens in the air. The counts are usually reported for mold spores and three types of pollen — grasses, trees and weeds. The count is reported as grains per cubic meter of air and is translated into a corresponding level — absent, low, medium or high.

Productive cough

A "wet" cough that may involve coughing up mucus.

Puffer

Another term for inhaler or metered-dose inhaler.

Pulmonary function tests (PFT)

A test or series of tests that measure many aspects of lung function and capacity; also referred to as lung function tests.

Pulse oximetry

A test in which a device that clips on the finger measures the oxygen level in the blood.

Respiration

The process of breathing, which includes the exchange of gases in the blood (oxygen and carbon dioxide), the taking in and processing of oxygen, and the delivery of carbon dioxide to the lungs for removal. See inhalation and exhalation.

S-T

Sinuses

Air pockets inside the head.

Spacer

A chamber that is used with a metered-dose inhaler to help the medication get into the airways better. Spacers also make metered-dose inhalers easier to use; spacers are sometimes called "holding chambers."

Spirometry

A basic pulmonary function test that measures how much and how fast air moves out of the lungs.

Sputum

Mucus or phlegm.

Steroid

Medication that reduces swelling and inflammation. Comes in pill and inhaled forms. Also called corticosteroid.

Symptom

A sign of disease.

Theophylline

A long-term control medication that opens the airways, which prevents and relieves bronchospasm.

Trachea

The main airway (windpipe) supplying both lungs.

Triggers

Things that cause asthma symptoms to begin or make them worse.

U-Z

Vaccine

A shot that protects the body from a specific disease.

Wheezing

The high-pitched whistling sound of air moving through narrowed airways.