Asthma Lexicon: Basic Terms To Know

There are some basic terms used to describe asthma. Here is a list of these terms, along with what they mean.

Asthma. A chronic disease most commonly associated with episodic symptoms that are completely or almost completely reversible.

Chronic. It’s always there. “Asthma is chronic. It does not go away. There is no cure. But, it can be controlled.”

Disease. A disorder.

Episodic. Symptoms occur sometimes or occasionally.

Airway inflammation. Asthmatic airways are chronically inflamed, red, or swollen.  It’s caused when airway cells seep some of their fluid between tissues. It’s usually a response to asthma triggers. This inflammation irritates cells lining airways resulting in asthma symptoms.

Hypersensitive. Inflamed airways are hypersensitive to asthma triggers.

Sensitive. Another way of saying hypersensitive.

Twitchy. Another term for sensitive airways. “Your airways are twitchy.”

Asthma Triggers. These are things that “trigger” asthma symptoms. They are usually things that are inhaled, such as allergens like dust mites, mold spores, pollen, and animal dander. They may also include irritants like cigarette smoke, wood smoke, and strong smells. They may also include emotions like stress and anxiety.The most common asthma triggers are respiratory viruses.

Acute. It’s happening right now. “I am having an acute asthma attack.”

Asthma attack. You are experiencing asthma symptoms. They vary in intensity. They also intermittent.

Intensity. How severe your asthma attacks are. They are usually described as mild, moderate, or severe.

Intermittent. Asthma attacks only occur some of the time. You may go days, week, months, or even years without experiencing symptoms.

Hibernation. Asthma may seem to go away if intervals between attacks are long. This occurs when asthma is well controlled.

Asthma episode. Another term for an asthma attack.

Asthma flare-up. Another term for an asthma attack.

Exacerbation. A medical term for an asthma attack.

Status Asthmaticus. A Latin term used to describe asthma that doesn’t go away despite treatment.

Symptoms. It’s how a disease presents itself. It’s what you feel just prior to or during asthma attacks. Common symptoms include chest tightness, shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing.

Early Warning Symptoms. These are symptoms you feel before having an asthma attack. Examples include cold symptoms, sneezing, chest tightness, coughing, feeling tired, feeling nervous, feeling anxious, etc. Actions you take now may prevent a full-fledged asthma attack

Worsening inflammation. Exposure to asthma triggers causes the underlying airway inflammation to get worse. When this happens, cells lining airways become irritated. This is what causes asthma symptoms. It’s what causes asthma attacks.

Bronchospasm. It’s when bronchial muscles spasm, tighten, and squeeze airways. It causes airways to become obstructed.

Bronchoconstriction. Another term for bronchospasm.

Obstruction. It’s when airways are partially blocked. It makes it so air can easily get past the obstruction when you inhale. But, when you exhale air may be partially blocked.

Increased sputum production. Inflammation irritates cells that produce sputum. This causes these cells to increase the amount of sputum produced. This may further obstruct airways.

Airflow limitation. It means that the flow of air is slowed when exhaling past an airway obstruction. This is what makes you feel short of breath. You feel like you can’t get air in, but really you can’t get air out. It can be measured by a test called a PFT.

Reversible. This means that airflow limitation goes away with time or treatment. It means that asthma symptoms go away with time or treatment. Note: Reversible does not mean that asthma can be reversed. There is no cure for asthma. It means that asthma symptoms can be reversed.

Pulmonary Function Test (PFT). It’s a breathing test to determine your lung function. It can show if you have airflow limitation. You do the test twice. The first time it may show you have airflow limitation. You are then given a breathing treatment with a rescue medicine like albuterol. You wait 15 minutes. You then repeat the test. If the second test shows the airflow limitation is gone or significantly improved, this means that it is reversible. This is a key test for helping doctors diagnose asthma.

Bronchospasm. It’s when the smooth muscles wrapped around airways spasm and squeeze airways.

Asthma Action Plan (AAP). A plan that you work on with your doctor. It should be written on paper. It should be placed in an easy to find location, such as taped to the refrigerator door. It helps you decide what actions to take when you’re experiencing symptoms. Do you take medicine? What medicine and how much do you take? Do you call your doctor? Do you call 911? Your action plan can help you decide what to do. Note: Asthma attacks may occur even in those with controlled asthma. So, this is why all asthmatics should have an AAP.

Uncontrolled Asthma. Airways remain twitchy and are very responsive to asthma triggers.

Control. The underlying airway inflammation is reduced to the point that airways are less sensitive to triggers. Asthma attacks are rare, and mild and easily controlled when they do occur. Good asthma control can be obtained by following these 10 tips.

Asthma Controller medicines. Medicines that reduce or control the underlying airway inflammation. They make airway less sensitive to asthma triggers. You can work with your doctor to determine which medicine works best for you.

Rescue medicine. Medicine that quickly relieves asthma symptoms. Medicine that opens airways to make breathing easy fast. The most common rescue medicine is albuterol (Ventolin).

What to make of this? These are some basic terms regarding asthma. Now you know what they mean.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Asthma.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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