Asthma Dictionary


The following is a glossary of commonly used asthma terms.

Anti-IgE: Medication that binds to IgE antibodies and prevents allergens from triggering allergic reactions.

Anti-inflammatory: medication that reduces and prevents airway swelling and inflammation. Usually taken daily.

Biologics: A class of medications given as an injection or intravenously to target specific cells and pathways that cause allergic inflammation linked to asthma.

Bronchodilator (BRON-ko-dy-lay-ter): medication that relaxes muscles around your airways and treats the noisy part of asthma: coughing, wheezing, choking and shortness of breath.

  • Quick-relief (short-acting) bronchodilators work for 3-6 hours and should be used at the first sign of symptoms, before exercise and as directed by your doctor.
  • Long-acting (12-hour) bronchodilators should be taken daily or twice-daily as prescribed, usually in conjunction with an inhaled
  • Anticholinergics/Muscarinic antagonists: A class of medications that block the action of neurotransmitters in the brain to prevent muscle bands around the airways from tightening.

Bronchospasm: twitching and sudden constriction of the airways that causes noisy symptoms of asthma: coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath.

Combination medication: contains two medicines in one dose, such as a long-acting bronchodilator and an anti-inflammatory corticosteroid.

Corticosteroid (cor-tih-co-STER-oyd): the most effective anti-inflammatory medication for asthma.

Dry powder inhaler (DPI): device used for powdered medication; breathing in activates the device to release medication.

Fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO): a test that measures exhaled nitric oxide and indicates airway inflammation.

IgE: antibodies produced by the immune system that set off allergy symptoms.

Immunotherapy: A treatment in which small amounts of an allergen are given to a patient in ever-increasing doses, with the goal of boosting tolerance to the allergen and reducing symptoms.

Leukotrienes (LOU-ka-try-eens): chemicals involved in immune responses that cause inflammation, swelling and tightening of the airways.

Metered-dose inhaler (MDI): a pressurized device used to spray medicine for inhalation.

Nebulizer (NEH-byuh-lye-zur): electric or battery-powered machine that turns liquid medicine into mist that can be inhaled.

Peak flow meter: a handheld device that measures peak expiratory flow rate (PEFR), the maximum speed that you can force air out of your lungs.

Spacer: device that fits onto an MDI inhaler or is a built-in part of the MDI that helps direct the flow of medicine into the back of your throat; user must coordinate spray with inhalation, as spacer does not trap particles.

Spirometer (Spy-RAW-meter): device that measures how much air you can push in and out of your lungs.

Valved holding chamber: a valved device that fits onto a metered-dose inhaler (MDI) to trap and suspend
medication spray so user can inhale when ready or during 3-5 breaths; also helps reduce amount of spray that hits tongue and inside cheeks.


Misleading Terms related to asthma

Using shorthand or slang to talk about asthma can be confusing. Reconsider the following terms:

Rescue inhaler: Don’t wait until you need “rescue” or are near death before using your quick-relief bronchodilator.

As needed: One person’s “Need it now” is another’s “Maybe later.” Get specific details on when to use each medication.

Controller medication: Most asthma medications “control” symptoms in one way or another. One medication alone may not give asthma patients full symptom control.

Mild or moderate asthma: All asthma is serious. Mild asthma symptoms can turn severe in a moment.

Outgrowing asthma: Your child may have fewer or no asthma symptoms into teenage years or may have a lifetime of asthma and allergy symptoms. Airways are always sensitive for life.

Puffer: Inhaler asthma medications don’t puff up or inflate your lungs.

Desktop computer, table, and smart phone mocks up showing the Learning Pathways intro page on the screen.

Quick 3-5 minute videos on asthma, allergies, and related conditions.

Are there other conditions that may look like asthma or complicate asthma?

There are other types of respiratory conditions that are different than asthma.  The symptoms, diagnosis and treatment can vary depending upon the condition. Here are some of them.