Asthma Mom’s Glossary of Lung Terms

Unless you’re new to this blog, you know my basic asthma story:

1. Terrified girl has unplanned pregnancy at 22, becomes mother at 23.
2. Girl’s baby starts flaring at 10 months.
3. Baby misdiagnosed for next 14 months but diagnosed with asthma at age two.
4. Baby flares severely for several years.
5. Baby-turned-little-girl finally under control.
6. Girl-turned-Asthma-Mom starts blog a couple of years later.

Those early years passed in a haze, and not just because I was young. Lack of sleep, constant worry, and frequent trips to the ER and to doctors’ offices blurred the edges of daily life, so I don’t actually remember when I started reading and learning about asthma.

What I do remember?

The struggle to understand the medical information and the feeling that I was learning a foreign language. When I’d read an asthma term like beta-agonist I’d think, What’s a beta-agonist? When I’d read that beta-agonists are a type of bronchodilator I’d think, What’s a bronchodilator?

You get the picture.

I started looking for a comprehensive asthma glossary to help. While I found some great ones online, none included both the very basic definitions I needed to understand asthma itself and also the more specific and complex terms, like the ones for asthma tests or the ones that describe allergy components. Plus, very few of the glossaries included definitions that made the connections between terms clear, if that makes sense.

In other words, I didn’t just want to read a definition that described bronchioles. I also wanted the definition to include how they react during an asthma flare.

That’s how I ended up compiling/writing my own glossary, which I originally published as BellaOnline’s asthma editor. Because the entire list is so long, I arranged the definitions into mini-glossaries by subject, and I’ll post each section over the next few weeks. When I’m done, you’ll be able to read the entire glossary through the tab above or find the mini-sections through the Asthma Glossaries category in the right sidebar.

I hesitate to use the word comprehensive here. That’s a pretty big word. What I’ll say, instead, is this glossary feels comprehensive to me. As with everything else I write on this blog, I don’t claim expert knowledge so much as I pass along what helped me, in case it might help you.

This first section defines terms you’ll encounter as you read about lungs and how they work.

Lung Terms

Alveoli – tiny, hollow sacs with thin walls on the ends of the bronchial tubes responsible for gas exchange. Oxygen from the air enters the blood here, and carbon dioxide from the body enters the air through the alveoli in reverse.

Bronchial tubes – two main airways that branch out from the trachea, connecting the trachea to each lung. There are two bronchial tubes, one that leads into the right lung and one that leads into the left.

Bronchioles – tiny airways that branch off the bronchial tubes and end in the alveoli. Bronchospasms, part of an asthma flare, happen here in the smooth muscle fibers of the bronchiole walls. Bronchodilators work to open these airways when constricted.

Cilia – hairlike structures in the bronchiole tubes that “sweep” mucus out of the lungs. Asthma sufferers produce too much mucus for the cilia to handle, clogging the airways during a flare.

Diaphragm – the shelf of muscle at the bottom of your lungs, crucial for breathing. Contractions of the diaphragm allow the lungs to inhale and exhale.

Mucus – substance produced by glands in the bronchial tubes, nose, and sinuses. Mucus keeps the airways and lungs clean by trapping particles from the air. The cilia then sweep the mucus to the trachea, where it is coughed up or swallowed. Asthma sufferers produce too much mucus.

Sputum – another word for mucus or phlegm

Trachea – the primary airway that leads into the lungs, also called the windpipe

For those of you who’ve asked about Saturday’s easter egg experimentation, I’d say we were about half-successful. Maybe 1/3. Let me put it this way: if you try to make your own dyes next Easter, make sure you A) boil the dye for a long, long time and B) soak the eggs in the dye for a long, long time.

8 responses to “Asthma Mom’s Glossary of Lung Terms”

  1. kristi says:

    I am in awe of your devotion to your daughter and your willingness to become an expert (yes, you are!) on her condition. As someone who grew up with a chronic illness (colitis, and later Crohn’s disease) I can tell you that having a mother so completely involved in every aspect of my care, who acted as my advocate, and who was so knowledgeable about what I needed was absolutely invaluable. Your daughter is one lucky little girl.

  2. Asthmagirl says:

    I love your glossery and learned a few things myself!

  3. Amy says:

    Well, thanks to both of you. I probably get as much from writing this thing as I give, so I guess it all equals out in the end. :)

  4. Daniel says:

    Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed

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