Respiratory Health Terms You Need to Know

Asthma, COPD, Daily Health Solutions, Featured Article, Healthy Living, Power to the Patient, Respiratory Health
on May 30, 2013
Respiratory health terms.

Most of us have suffered our way through a bad upper-respiratory infection or two in our time and feel we have a pretty good grasp on the meaning of terms like “bronchitis,” “congestion” and “lungs.”

Even so, it’s worth learning about other respiratory health terms, as they may be relevant to you or a family member one day. After all, 25 million people in the United States have asthma, and the number continues to grow, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. And the American Lung Association reports that more than 13 million U.S. adults have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD—and as many as 24 million show signs of impaired lung function, which means the COPD stats could be even higher.

“When people get a new diagnosis or are having some kind of health event or problem, it’s helpful to relearn what certain things mean,” says Eileen Lowery, director of lung health initiatives for the Respiratory Health Association in Chicago. “And sometimes it’s not that they don’t know what something may mean or that they don’t have an understanding, but more so that they need to know what it means to relation to what’s going on currently.”

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For example, many people may be hazy on the definition of COPD. It hasn’t been around that long, explains Lowery, so not everyone is familiar with it. The term refers to a progressive disease in which a person finds it hard to breathe. It’s used as an umbrella term to include conditions like emphysema and chronic bronchitis that are typically brought on by long-term smoking, which is the leading cause of COPD.

Here are some other respiratory health terms you might need to know.

Airways: the tubes that create a pathway for air from the nose and mouth to the lungs

Lungs: organs in your chest that allow you to breathe; they allow your body to take in oxygen and clear out carbon dioxide

Asthma: chronic inflammation or swelling of the airways in the lungs

Inhaler: a device used to deliver quick-acting medication for asthma (sometimes called a metered dose inhaler, or MDI)

Spacer: a plastic air-chamber device with a mouthpiece used in conjunction with an inhaler

COPD: a disease in which trouble breathing becomes worse over time, usually caused by smoking

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Spirometry test: a breathing test that measures how much air you can blow out and how fast

Pulmonary rehab: a program that teaches people how to better manage their COPD

Pulmonologist: a doctor who specializes in treating lung problems

Bronchial tubes: tubes for air inside your lungs

Bronchioles: smaller, thinner tubes that branch off the ends of the bronchial tubes

Alveoli: tiny air sacs in the lungs that branch off the ends of the bronchioles

Steroids: medication used to reduce swelling in your lungs

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Oxygen therapy: the use of extra or supplementary oxygen to make sure your body gets enough

Trachea: your windpipe

Wheezing: a whistling sound made by the lungs by a person who has some difficulty breathing

Emphysema: a chronic condition caused by damage to the tiny sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs

Chronic bronchitis: long-term swelling of the bronchi, or airways, along with a cough that produces sputum

Definitions adapted from the Plain Language Medical Dictionary, which is part of the Michigan Health Literacy Awareness project, the Respiratory Health Association, and the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute