Allernet > Newsletter > Allergy & Asthma Dictionary

Allergy derives its meaning from the Greek words allos + ergon which when put together means "other work", or opposite and excessive reaction. If you have allergy, you have an increased risk of reacting to things such as allergens. Another word for allergy is hypersensitivity.

Allergen is anything that can produce an allergic reaction, such as weed pollens, mold spores, cat dander and house dust mites.

Allergic Rhinitis is an allergic reaction in the linings of the nose and sinuses. (When reading doctors' words, you should always read them backwards. "Itis" means inflammation or swelling. "Rhino" means nose, and "allergic" means hyper-reactivity. So, Allergic Rhinitis means inflammation and swelling in the nose and sinus due to allergy. Easy, huh? People often refer to allergic rhinitis as `hay fever' even though there isn't any fever when you have it.

Anaphylaxis is a word that means a really big allergic reaction all over the body. In severe cases, such as reactions to bee stings or to medicines, anaphylaxis can be life threatening.

Asthma is an allergic reaction in the lungs. People who have asthma have lungs that are ticklish. The bronchial tubes (airways) are twitchy and sensitive to irritating things such as cold air, cigarette smoke and perfumes. Also, the lungs of asthmatics often have a lot of thick and sticky mucus in the airways. So, doctors will sometimes say that asthma patients have "bronchitis", which means inflammation in the bronchial tubes.

Hives is an allergic reaction in the skin with a lot of itching and swellings. Hives can happen in any area of your skin from the head to the toes. Another name for hives is urticaria (r´t-kâ´i-). 

Sinus is an old Roman word that means "sewer". Humans have sinuses, or sewers, inside of their heads. If a sinus drain is plugged, you can get a sinus headache which feels like a lot of pressure pushing out from inside your forehead or your face.

Sinusitis means inflammation in the sinuses.

Food Allergy is an allergic reaction to something that is eaten. The most common foods that cause allergic reactions are milk, egg, nuts, soybeans, peanuts (which are really beans), shell fish and pan fish (perch, cod). Any food can cause allergy.

Mast Cells are cells inside the human body that line all of the surfaces of the skin, mouth, nose, sinuses, lungs and intestines. Mast cells have histamine inside of them. Another way to think of mast cells is that they are like "allergy bombs" just waiting to go off. The fuses on the outside of mast cell allergy bombs are called "allergy antibodies". Everyone has mast cells, but not everyone has the allergy fuses to make the bombs go off.

Histamine is the allergy chemical that is released from mast cell "allergy bombs" during an allergic reaction. Histamine causes itching, sneezing, swelling and a flood of mucus in the nose, itching, burning and swelling in the skin, headaches and plugging up of the sinuses, spasms and wheezing in the lungs, and also, cramps and diarrhea in the stomach.

Antihistamine blocks the bad effects of histamine. Some antihistamines make people sleepy since they get into the brain and affect its functions. Newer antihistamines do not get into the brain, and therefore, do not have this side effect.

Immune System is the part of the human body that helps to fight infections. The immune system is composed of cells and fluid substances (called "molecules") that normally work together to kill invading viruses and bacteria.

Antibody is the part of the human immune system that can attach itself to bacteria and viruses and cause them to die. Antibodies are normally found in the fluids of the body including the blood, tears, mucus and other fluid secretion.

Allergy Antibody is an antibody that 1 out of 3 people make that attaches itself to the outside of the mast cell "allergy bombs" and causes allergy reactions to occur. Each person has their own fingerprint, and will make different and unique immune reactions to foods, pollens and mold allergens that enter the body. Another name for allergy antibody is IgE.

Wheeze is the term used by doctors and nurses to describe the sound that they hear in the lungs of patients who have an obstruction in the airways, especially when the wheezing patient is blowing air out of the lungs (exhaling). Many times asthmatics who are uncontrolled will be wheezing. Importantly, many asthmatics do not wheeze, even when they are having severe breathing problems due to the build up of mucus in their tightening bronchial tubes.

Sneeze is a violent reflex and contraction of the body which propels air out of the lungs and through the nasal passageways at over 400 miles an hour. Sneezing is the body's way of flushing and clearing out the breathing spaces in the head.

Mucus is the wet and sticky substance produced in the glands lining the nose, sinuses, lungs, eyes, stomach, intestines and reproductive tract. When it dries, some children call it boogers, but it is really "snot".

Spore is the reproductive part of a fungus or mold that can cause allergic reactions. A fungus is a simple life form that does not have chlorophyll, like green plants do. Molds and fungi (fungi is plural for fungus) depend upon other forms of life for food, and reproduce by giving off sometimes huge numbers of spores into the air, like plants do when they give off pollen.

Pollen is the word used to describe the male fertilizing elements given off into the air by flowering plants. Inside of the pollen grains there are proteins that can cause allergic reactions in genetically predisposed people. The pollens that are most often responsible for causing allergic rhinitis come from weeds, trees and grasses.

Dust Mite is a small eight-legged animal that lives with humans in their "nests" and homes. The dust mite is the most common cause of allergic rhinitis and asthma on this planet. They eat microscopic molds and skin dander, and then leave their droppings (feces) behind. The dust mite droppings are the source of the irritating and allergenic effects of the mite. There is actually an enzyme in the mite feces similar to Adolf's meat tenderizer that can itself irritate a person, or cause an allergic reaction. So, people allergic to dust are really allergic to a bunch of poop, or dust mite do-do.

Peanut is a bean that grows in the ground. It is not a nut that comes from trees, like hickory nuts. Peanuts are the most frequent cause of food anaphylaxis in children. Avoidance is the best treatment for people with anaphylaxis to foods.

Venom is the toxic liquid inside the venom sacs of honey bees, wasps, yellow jackets, fire ants and snakes. Venom contains substances that can cause severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylaxis.