Action Plan
A series of steps (preferably written) that will help you prevent asthma flare-ups and tell you what to do if asthma symptoms occur.

Short term. Refers to medical conditions that do not last very long, such as a cold.

A natural substance in the body that increases the heart rate, narrows blood vessels and opens up air passages. Used to treat anaphylaxis.

A fine mist of medicine that is inhaled. This is the most common way that medicine is taken for asthma.

The air passages that air passes through in the lungs.

Tiny particles or substances that cause allergic reactions if your body is sensitive to them.

Allergic Reaction
What happens to your body when an allergen is inhaled (e.g., pollen), eaten (e.g., peanuts), touched (e.g., pet), or injected (e.g., medicine, bee sting). You may get hives (that’s an itchy rash), or a stuffy nose, or you may have trouble breathing if it causes asthma symptoms. Sometimes your eyes get red and swollen and itchy.

The air sacks at the very end of the air passages in the lungs, where oxygen is passed to the bloodstream and carbon dioxide is removed.

A very serious, life threatening allergic reaction requiring immediate medical help.

Animal Dander
The flakes of skin, hair, feathers, of all warm-blooded animals, including dogs, cats, birds, and rodents (mice, hamsters and gerbils). The length of animal hair does not matter. There is no such thing as a non-allergic dog or cat.

A medicine used to treat infections.

Anti-inflammatory Medication
Medicine that reduces inflammation and swelling. In asthma these drugs prevent a person’s airways from being inflamed and swollen. Also called ‘controller’ medication.

Anti-leukotriene Medication
Also called ‘leukotriene-receptor antagonists’. Asthma medications taken daily as a tablet and designed to treat and prevent inflammation in the lungs.

Acetylsalicylic acid. ASA, as well as other “non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs” can be an asthma trigger for some people.

Asthma Symptoms
Physical changes that tell you that your lungs are not working at their best. If not treated with an anti-inflammatory medicine, they can get worse and lead to an asthma attack. Examples of the common asthma symptoms are coughing, feeling short of breath, chest tightness, and wheezing.

A medical term indicating an inherited tendency to develop allergic disorders such as asthma, rhinitis, eczema, and food allergies due to an over-sensitive immune system producing too many IgE antibodies.

Atopic Dermatitis
Eczema that is due to allergies. Eczema is a non-contagious skin condition where certain areas of the skin get inflamed and itchy and sores develop.


A medicine used to temporarily relieve asthma breathing problems. A short or fast-acting beta-agonist works quickly and is also referred to as a ‘rescue’ or ‘reliever’ medication. A long-acting beta-agonist last for about 12 hours, but generally does not treat the underlying inflammation or swelling in the airways.

The larger air passages (airways) in the lungs.

The smaller air passages in the lungs that branch off of the bronchi.

Inflammation of the bronchi usually from an infection but can also be due to an irritation.

An asthma medicine that temporarily opens up the airways by relaxing the tiny bands of muscles that surround some of the airways in the lungs.

Bronchospasm or Bronchoconstriction
Narrowing of airways that makes breathing difficult and noisy. Tiny bands of muscles that surround some of the airways in the lungs can tighten up when exposed to an asthma trigger.


Also known as “thrush”. A mild fungal infection that can occur when taking inhaled corticosteroids. Usually preventable by using a spacing device and/or gargling and rinsing out the mouth after taking the medication.

Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)
Propellant used in some asthma inhalers. A propellant is a gas that helps spray the medicine into your lungs. This type of propellant will eventually be banned in Canada due to its negative effect on the ozone layer. A currently available non-CFC propellant is called “hydrofluoroalkane” or HFA.

Long term. Refers to conditions, such as asthma, which are long term conditions.

Viral infection of the upper respiratory area (nose, throat, or sinuses). The most important cause of asthma episodes, especially in young children.

Controller (Preventer)
Asthma medications used daily to prevent and control asthma symptoms.

Corticosteroid, also called ‘preventer’ or ‘controller’, is a type of asthma medication that reduces inflammation in the lungs to keep asthma controlled and prevent ‘attacks’. They are not the same as the ‘anabolic’ steroids taken illegally by athletes.

The body’s reaction to an irritant in the lungs or the trachea (windpipe).

Term used to describe the blueish or purplish skin colour that occurs when there is not enough oxygen in the blood. Can often be seen first in the lips and nailbeds. It is an emergency situation and the person should be brought to a hospital immediately.


Medication designed to reduce congestion in the nose and sinuses.

Medication taken for an illness. Common words include:

  • Dose – the amount of medicine a person takes
  • Route – the path the medicine takes to get to the part of the body that needs it. Examples of different rountes are oral (taken by mouth), inhaled (breathed in), and intravenous (into the vein).

Dust Mite
Microscopic insects that lives in beds and carpets. They are a common asthma trigger.

Dry Powder Inhaler
Medication device that contains a dry powder. These types of medications need to be inhaled quickly, as opposed to the pressurized inhalers that spray the medicine out and need to be inhaled slowly.


Also called ‘dermatitis’. A non-contagious skin condition where certain areas of the skin get inflamed and itchy and sores develop. Can be allergic (atopic) or non-allergic.

Also called ‘adrenaline’. A medication taken by injection (needle) for severe allergic reactions and anaphylaxis.

Exercise-induced Asthma (EIA)
Narrowing of the airways and difficulty breathing that comes on five to 10 minutes after the beginning of exercise. caused by exercise. A condition that can be controlled with the right treatment.

To breathe out.


Hay Fever
Allergies in the nose and eyes that occur due to seasonal allergens (pollens from trees, grass, weeds). Also referred to as seasonal rhinitis.

A natural chemical in the body that is released by certain cells during an allergic reaction. It is responsible for a lot of the swelling and itching that occurs.

Hydrofluoroalkane (HFA)
Newer propellant used in some asthma inhalers. A propellant is a gas that helps spray the medicine into your lungs. This type of propellant does not have a negative effect on the ozone layer.

Hyperresponsiveness or Hypersensitivity
An overreaction to a certain stimulus that normally doesn’t cause a reaction. In asthma it refers to the airways being overly reactive to certain triggers, causing them to close up (bronchoconstrict).


IgE Antibody
IgE antibodies initiate the release of substances from certain cells, causing the inflammation that leads to asthma and allergy symptoms. People with asthma and allergies often produce too many of these antibodies.

Immunotherapy (Desensitization)
Also called ‘allergy shots’. Specific allergens are injected regularly over a period of time in order to reduce the person’s reaction to the allergen.

The way the body reacts to being hurt. In the lungs, airways become swollen, narrow and irritable. Asthma is one example of inflammation. Others are arthritis or sunburn. In asthma, especially in children, coughing may be the most obvious symptom of inflammation in the airways.

To breathe in.

Inhaled Medications
Medicine a person breathes in. It goes directly to the part of the body that is being affected, the airways.

Things that bother the nose, throat or airways. Examples of irritants are tobacco smoke, air pollution, paint.


Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI or pMDI)
A small device also called an inhaler or puffer, which turns medicine into an aerosol. It delivers one dose of medicine at a time.

Also called “phlegm”. It is normally produced in the lungs but there can be too much mucous in the lungs when asthma in not well controlled.


A device used to deliver asthma medications. An electrically powered compressor forces air through a nebulizer, producing a fine medication mist that is inhaled through a mask or mouthpiece.


Occupational Asthma
Asthma that develops as a result of exposure to substances in the workplace.

Optimal Asthma Control
The best possible asthma control that can be achieved for an individual based on the following measurements:

  1. least asthma symptoms
  2. least interference with activities of daily living
  3. least side effects from medication
  4. least need for bronchodilator
  5. best spirometry (FEV1) or peak expiratory flow (PEF), with least variability


Peak Flow Meter
A portable, hand-held device that measures how fast a person can exhale in litres per minute (lpm). Can be useful for monitoring a person’s asthma.

Pollen is the male reproductive part of trees, grasses and weeds. Pollen allergens are carried by the wind, and when inhaled can cause an allergic reaction in the lungs or nose, leading to asthma and allergy symptoms. In general, tree pollens are present in the early spring, grass pollens in the late spring, and ragweed pollens in the late summer.

Preventors (Controllers)
Asthma medications used daily to prevent and control asthma symptoms.

Taking medicine before being exposed to a trigger to lessen the effect of the trigger on asthma symptoms.

A common term for inhalers used to treat asthma.

Pulmonary Function Testing
Also called a ‘breathing test’. A test, or series of tests, used to diagnose and monitor asthma.


Inflammation of the nasal passages. Rhinitis causes congestion, sneezing and runny nose.

The path the medicine takes to get to the part of the body that needs it. Examples of different routes are oral (by mouth), inhaled (breathed in), IV (intravenous)


Fluid, often called mucous produced by the mucous glands. Coughing up mucous from the lungs usually means a problem in the airways, but not always an infection. The mucous may be clear, yellow, or green. Asthma that is not well-controlled may cause coloured mucous to be coughed up.

Side Effects
What medicine does to the body besides what it is taken for.

Any abnormality that the doctor finds after examining a patient. An example is the lung sounds heard when the doctor listens to a person’s chest.

Skin Prick Test
An allergy test that involves scratching the outer surface of the skin on the arms or back, applying a drop of an allergen solution, then watching for a reaction (swelling, redness). It is very useful for determining what you are allergic to.

Spacers (Holding Chambers)
A plastic, usually tubular device that is attached to pressurized meter dose inhalers (MDIs). The medicine is sprayed into the spacer, then immediately breathed in. A spacer makes it easier to time the inhalation, gets more medicine into the lungs and less in the mouth, and can reduce certain side effects, such as a sore throat.

A device used to measure flows and volumes of air breathed in and out of your lungs. It helps with the diagnosis and monitoring of asthma.

Secretions from the smaller airways in the lower part of the lungs.

Any abnormality that is experienced by an individual. An example is chest tightness that is felt when asthma is not well-controlled.


Thrush (Candida)
See “Candidiasis”.

Substances or situations that can cause inflammation or swelling in the airway. Some common triggers are cigarette smoke, animal dander, dust mites and viral infections such as a cold.


A high-pitched noise that comes from the chest as air is forced through airways that are too narrow.