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Glossary
Below are the definitions of some of the words used on this website.

Allergy
Allergies are over-reactions of the immune system to substances to ordinarily harmless substances, such as dust, pollen or food.

Allergy Shots

See Immunotherapy

Anaphylaxis

Is a serious, life threatening allergic systemic allergic reaction which requires immediate attention by a qualified medical professional.

Antibody

An antibody is kind of immune cell called an immunoglobin. In people with allergies antibodies over reacts to ordinary substances placing the body into “attacK” mode when that substance, called an allergen (such as cat dander) is introduced into the body.  In response to antibodies, other cells in the immune system release chemical mediators like histamines, that cause inflammation and allergic symptoms like hives or urticaria, rhinitis or hay fever and asthma.

Antigen

An antigen, also known as an Allergen, is a protein that can provoke an immune response.  Examples of antigens include: cat dander, dust mite proteins, egg whites.

Antihistamine drugs

Antihistamines block the release of histamines, reducing inflammation during an allergic reaction.  They are often used to treat allergic rhinitis. 

Anti-inflammatory drugs

Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce the symptoms and signs of inflammation.

Asthma

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs.  During an episode of asthma or an “asthma attack”  the muscles of the airway passages in the lungs spasm, causing a tightening and making it difficult for the patient to breath.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic Dermatitis is a hereditary, non contagious skin disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the skin.  This condition, sometimes called atopic eczema is associated with other atopic diseases including hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and asthma. 

Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an irritation in the lining of the lungs often caused by caustic chemicals, pollutants, cigarette smoke and infection. 

Bronchodilator drugs

Bronchodilators are medications that relax the muscles surrounding the airway passages in the lungs making air flow more easily and decreasing the severity of asthma symptoms.

Bronchus

Any of the larger air passages that connect the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs. The plural form of "bronchus" as "bronchi."

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is kind of rash on the skin.  It can be caused by caustic or abrasive substances like detergents or it can be in immune mediated allergic reaction, as with poison oak and poison ivy.   The difference between contact dermatitis that is allergic in origin and other types of allergic rashes, like hives, is that in contact dermatitis, the allergen touches the skin, whereas in other allergic rashes, the allergen may be inhaled or eaten. 

Corticosteroid drugs

Corticosteroids are a group of medicines that are used to treat allergic symptoms including asthma, rhinitis, and eczema. These medications may be inhaled or taken orally.  Corticosteroids should always be taken only under the care and supervision of a doctor.

Digestive system

This includes your mouth, esophagus, stomach and intestines. The digestive system includes the organs which help you eat and digest foods. 

Eczema

Eczema is an itchy, red, scaly and often blistering skin rash. The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema.  Atopic eczema is often made worse by exposure to allergens.  Eczema involves inflammation of the skin, usually causing itching and sometimes accompanied by crusting, scaling or blisters.

Epinephrine

Epinephrine, sometimes called adrenaline, is a naturally occurring hormone.  Epinephrine dilates the airways to improve breathing. Epinephrine is the drug of choice for treatment of anaphylaxis. If you are allergic to stinging insects, your physician may give you an “epi-pen” to carry as a precaution against accidental stings. 

Extrinsic Asthma

Extrinsic asthma is asthma with a known cause, such as allergic sensitivity to pollen or house dust.

Hay fever

See Rhinitis.

Histamine

Histamine is a chemical mediator that causes inflammation and allergic symptoms., such as nasal congestion, sneezing, itching and airway constriction.

Hives

See Urticaria.

Immune system

The immune system is the network of cells in the body that work to protect against invaders, such as viruses and bacteria.  The immune system also plays an important roll in fighting cancers.  In patients with allergies, however, the immune system over-reacts to otherwise harmless substances (like dust) causing dangerous symptoms, including anaphylaxis.  Cells such as antibodies (immunoglobins), and mast cells are part of your bodies immune system.

Immunoglobulins

Immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies, are proteins found in blood and in tissue fluids.  Immunoglobins are produced by cells called lymphocytes.  Their function is to protect the body against invaders.  In patients with allergic disease, an immunoglobin known as immunoglobin E (IgE) over reacts to ordinary substances in the environment which do not otherwise cause disease, such as animal dander and plant pollen.

Immunotherapy

Allergy Immunotherapy also called ‘Allergy Shots’ is a kind of systematic desensitization.  It is a highly effective method of treating and sometimes preventing the inflammatory allergic reactions that cause allergies like rhinitis and asthma.  Immunotherapy can also be used to desensitize patients to insect venom and various medications, to prevent allergic and even anaphylactic reactions to these substances.

Inflammation

Inflammation is characterized by swelling, pain and redness is the redness.  It is caused by chemical mediators, such as histamines, which are released when the immune system of an allergic patient is exposed to an allergen.

Intrinsic asthma

Intrinsic asthma is asthma that has no apparent external cause.

Lymphocyte

Lymphocytes are cells which produce immunoglobins, such as immunoglobin  (IgE), the immunoglobin which becomes over reactive in patients with allergic disease. 

Mast cell

Mast cells are immune modulators which play a critical roll in the allergic response.  These cells release histamine a chemical mediator which causes inflammation in the tissues of the nose, nasal sinuses, and lungs during an allergic reaction.

RAST

RAST stands for  Radio-Allergo-Sorbent Test.  It is a blood test used to detect immunogobin E that is type specific (specific to a particular allergen).  This can help to determine if you are allergic to a particular allergen.  For example, people allergic to cats will have an increased level of type specific IgE for cats.  The RAST test is more expensive and time consuming than standard allergen prick testing.  But in patients with skin or medical conditions that make skin testing impossible, the RAST test may be used as an alternative to determine which allergens are provoking their allergic symptoms.

Respiratory system

The respiratory system includes the organs involved in breathing and includes the nasal passages, sinuses, upper and lower airways including the trachea, bronchi and lungs.

Rhinitis

Rhinitis is an inflammation of the mucosal lining of the nose, characterized by sneezing, itchy watery eyes and a stuffy nose. Seasonal allergic rhinitis  is commonly referred to as ‘Hay Fever.’

Sinus

Sinuses are air cavities that line the nose and face. They are covered in  mucous membranes like those that line other airway passages, such as the lungs.

Sinusitis

Sinusitis is inflammation of the membrane lining the sinuses, often caused by bacterial or viral infection, but may be caused by obstruction, as in the case of nasal polyps, or as a progression and worsening of severe rhinitis.

Theophylline

Theophylline an asthma medication that is one of the class called bronchodilatorrs. Theophylline can be administered orally or intravenously.  Levels of theophylline should be monitored carefully to prevent serious side effects, including seizures. 

Urticaria

Urticaria, also called Hives, are itchy red bumps that form on the skin during an allergic reaction.  They often resemble large mosquito bites.  The can harold the onset of more severe symptoms of anaphylaxis, such as airway constriction, or may subside spontaneously with the removal of the allergic stimulus.

Copyright © 2008-2010 Dr. Beth Cowan