Glossary

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Aeroallergen
An airborne substance, such as pollen or spores, that can cause an allergic response.
Allergen
A substance (such as a food or pollen) that your body perceives as dangerous. Allergens can directly trigger symptoms on exposure such as runny nose, itchy watery eyes, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, hives, or other symptoms.
Allergic (extrinsic) asthma
A type of asthma where symptoms are triggered by inhaling allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, pollens, and mold.
Allergy
An exaggerated response to a substance or condition produced by the release of histamine or histamine-like substances in affected cells.
Allergy shots
See immunotherapy.
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 (cholinergic blockers)
This type of medicine may help to relax 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.
Antihistamine
Medication that stops the action of histamine, which causes symptoms of allergy such as itching and swelling.
Anti-IgE therapy
A form of treatment used for patients with moderate to severe persistent allergic asthma. IgE is an antibody that binds to allergens such as dust mites, mold, animal dander, and pollen. The binding of IgE to allergens results in allergic symptoms in some people. Anti-IgE therapy can reduce free IgE in the body and may result in reduced allergy and asthma symptoms.
Anti-IL-5 therapy
A form of treatment used for patients with moderate to severe asthma. It targets an inflammatory marker in the body that can cause airway inflammation of the lungs.
Anti-inflammatory
Medication that reduces inflammation or swelling.
Aspiration
Accidentally breathing food or other matter into the lungs.
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 cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, and excess mucus production. These symptoms may be more apparent at night or with exercise.
Asthma attack (asthma episode)
When asthma symptoms become worse than usual. In a severe asthma attack, the airways narrow so much that they can no longer deliver enough oxygen to the body’s vital organs. In some cases, asthma attacks can be fatal.
Asthma mimickers (asthma mimics)
Health conditions that have symptoms similar to asthma symptoms.
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. Only short-acting beta-agonists should be used to relieve acute asthma symptoms when they occur.
Breath sounds
Lung sounds heard through a stethoscope.
Breathing rate
The number of breaths per minute.
Bronchial challenge test (methacholine challenge)
A lung function test, more commonly used in adult patients, in which the lungs’ response to inhaled methacholine is measured. Methacholine is an agent that causes the airways to spasm and, in asthma cases, to narrow. Lung function that drops by 20% in response to methacholine results in an asthma diagnosis.
Bronchial tubes
Airways in the lung that branch from the trachea (windpipe).
Bronchiectasis
A lung disease characterized by injury to the walls of the airways in the lungs. Repeated infection is the main cause of bronchiectasis.
Bronchioles
The smallest branches of the airways in the lungs. They connect to the alveoli (air sacs).
Bronchogenic carcinoma
Lung cancer.
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.
Carbon dioxide
A colorless, odorless gas that is formed in the tissues and is delivered to the lungs to be exhaled.
Chronic bronchitis
A chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus. It can also cause shortness of breath, wheezing, a low fever, and chest tightness. It’s often caused by cigarette smoking.
Chronic disease
A disease that can be controlled, but not cured.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
A term encompassing several lung diseases, such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. These diseases are most commonly caused by cigarette smoking.
Cilia
Hair-like structures that line the airways in the lungs and help to clean out the airways.
Congestive heart failure
A heart condition in which the heart does not pump correctly, which leads to a buildup of fluid in the lungs.
Contraindication
A reason not to use a course of treatment or medication.
Cystic fibrosis
A genetic disorder that can cause growth problems, chronic cough, chronic sinusitis, and recurrent lung infections.
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 body water leading to thirst, decreased urination, lethargy (tiredness), and possibly diminished bodily functions.
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.

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Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
A test used by providers to determine the condition of your heart. During the course of beating, your heart emits weak electrical signals. An electrocardiogram records these signals, and gives your provider an overall picture of your heart from a functional standpoint.
Emphysema
A long-term, progressive disease of the lungs that primarily causes shortness of breath due to over-inflation of the alveoli (air sacs), often caused by cigarette smoking.
Exacerbation
Worsening or flare-up of asthma or another underlying illness (e.g., a severe asthma exacerbation may be referred to as an “Asthma Attack”).
Exercise induced asthma
Asthma that is made worse when exercising.
Exhalation
Breathing air out of the lungs.
Extrinsic asthma
See allergic asthma.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
A disorder in which stomach contents and acid flow back into the esophagus, causing frequent heartburn, which can cause asthma-like symptoms.
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
Excessively fast, shallow breathing.
Immune system
The body's defense system that protects us against infections and foreign substances.
Immunotherapy
A form of treatment aimed at decreasing your sensitivity to allergens that are identified by allergy testing. By injecting increasing amounts of an allergen over several months, this therapy can help reduce your symptoms of allergies and asthma and lead to long-lasting relief of allergy symptoms even after treatment is stopped.
Indication
Reason to use.
Inflammation
A response in the body includes swelling and redness.
Inhalation
Breathing air into the lungs.
Inhalation accessory device (IAD)
A device used to improve the function of metered-dose inhalers. See also spacer.
Inhaled corticosteroid (ICS)
A long-term control asthma medicine that works over time to reduce the inflammation and swelling of the airways and to decrease production of mucus.
Inhaler
See metered-dose inhaler (MDI).
Intermittent asthma
Considered the mildest form of asthma. When uncontrolled, this type of asthma causes symptoms up to two days a week, and up to two nights a month.
Intrinsic asthma
See non-allergic asthma.
Irritants
Things that bother the nose, throat, or airways when they are inhaled (not an allergen).

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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.
Long-term control medicine
A type of asthma medicine used on a regular basis to improve lung function and to control asthma symptoms before they start.
Mast cell stabilizer
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications that may used to treat asthma.
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.
Methacholine challenge (bronchial challenge test)
A lung function test, more commonly used in adult patients, in which the lungs’ response to inhaled methacholine is measured. Methacholine is an agent that causes the airways to spasm and, in asthma cases, to narrow. Lung function that drops by 20% in response to methacholine results in an asthma diagnosis.
Mild persistent asthma
Asthma characterized by symptoms occurring more than two to four times per week, with night symptoms occurring two to four nights per month.
Moderate persistent asthma
Asthma characterized by symptoms occurring every day and more than one night a week.
Mold
Parasitic, microscopic fungi 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.
Mucosa
A delicate cellular lining of the airways in the lungs.
Mucus
A thick, sticky fluid produced by glands in the airways, nose, and sinuses. Mucus cleans and protects certain parts of the body such as the lungs.
Myocardial ischemia
A form of heart disease that occurs when blood flow to the heart is reduced, which prevents the heart from receiving enough oxygen. In severe cases, this can cause a heart attack.
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), which are inhaled through a mouthpiece or mask. Nebulizers can be used to deliver bronchodilator (airway-opening) medications such as albuterol, as well as anti-inflammatory medicines. 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-allergic (intrinsic) asthma
A type of asthma where symptoms are triggered by factors other than allergens, such as anxiety, stress, exercise, cold air, dry air, hyperventilation, smoke, viruses, or other irritants.
Non-steroidal
Anti-inflammatory medication that is not a steroid.
Obesity
A condition that is characterized by excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body and that in an adult is typically indicated by a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater.
Oxygen
The essential element in the respiration process to sustain life. This colorless, odorless gas makes up about 21 percent of the air.

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Peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR)
A test used to measure how fast air can be exhaled from the lungs.
Peak flow meter
A small handheld device that measures how fast air comes out of the lungs when a person exhales forcefully. This measurement is called a peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR) and is measured in liters per minute (lpm). A person's PEFR 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 provider decide when to stop or add medications.
Persistent asthma
Asthma in which symptoms occur frequently. Patients with persistent asthma experience the symptoms of coughing, wheezing, or chest tightness at least two to four times a week. Persistent asthma can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Personal best peak expiratory flow rate
The highest peak flow number a person can achieve when symptoms are under good control. The personal best PEFR 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 rate will change as growth occurs. A child's personal best peak expiratory flow rate should be re-determined 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.
Primary ciliary dyskinesia
A disorder characterized by abnormal movement of the cilia in the body. This leads to recurrent ear infections, sinusitis, and lung infections.
Productive cough
A "wet" cough that may involve coughing up mucus.
Puffer
Another term for inhaler or metered-dose inhaler.
Pulmonary artery
Artery that delivers blood from the heart to the lungs.
Pulmonary aspergillosis
A fungal infection of lung tissues.
Pulmonary function tests (PFTs)
A test or series of tests that measure many aspects of lung function and capacity; also referred to as lung function tests.
Pulmonary vein
Vein that returns oxygenated blood from the lungs to the heart.
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.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
A virus that can cause wheezing and pneumonia in babies and young children. RSV can lead to childhood asthma.
Severe persistent asthma
The most severe form of asthma, causing symptoms throughout the day on most days and frequently at night.
Short-acting beta-agonist (SABA)
The most common quick-relief medicine. Also called bronchodilators.
Sinuses
Air pockets inside the head.
Sinusitis
An inflammation or swelling of the sinuses, which can cause a number of respiratory symptoms. Also called a sinus infection.
Spacer
A plastic or metal hollow chamber that is used with a metered-dose inhaler to enhance delivery of asthma medication into the lungs. Spacers may decrease side effects of asthma medications by preventing deposition of the asthma medication on the tongue and back of the throat. A spacer also may make metered-dose inhalers easier to use; spacers are sometimes called holding chambers.
Spirometry
A breathing test or 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. Steroids are produced by the body during times of infection and stress. Comes in pill and inhaled forms. Also called corticosteroid.
Symptom
A sign of disease.
Theophylline
A long-term control medication that opens the airways to prevent and relieve bronchospasm.
Trachea
The main airway (windpipe) supplying both lungs.
Triggers
Things that cause asthma symptoms to begin or make them worse.
Upper airflow obstruction
A condition in which the flow of air is blocked by something such as a tumor or enlarged thyroid glands.
Vaccine
An injection that may help to prevent infection or enhance the immune response to and recovery from a specific infection.
Virus
A small infectious agent that may cause respiratory illness, such as influenza.
Vocal cord dysfunction
A condition in which the larynx, or voice box, muscles close rapidly, which can cause breathing difficulties.
Vocal cord paralysis
A loss of function of the vocal cords, which can make breathing difficult.
Wheezing
The high-pitched whistling sound of air moving through narrowed airways.
X-Ray
A procedure that uses low-level radiation that passes through the body to produce a two-dimensional picture called a radiograph.