Glossary of COPD-Related Terms

Sometimes it may seem like COPD has its own language! Here is a glossary with common COPD-related terms.


Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (al-fa-one an-tee-trip-sin dee-fi-shin-see)

A genetic form of COPD—in other words it is passed down from family member to family member—individuals with this disorder have a low level of a protein in the blood (alpha-1 antitrypsin) which protects the lungs from breathed in toxins.

Antibiotics (an-tee-by-ah-ticks)

Medicines given for an infection caused by bacteria. These drugs do not help with infections caused by viruses.

Anticholinergics (an-tee-coe-luh-nur jick)

They are a type of medications that works to relax the muscles in the airways allowing them to widen and improve air flow. They are available as rescue relievers and controllers.

Arterial Blood Gas test(are-teer-ree-uhl)

A blood test with a sample of blood taken from the artery to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood.

Alveoli (al-vee-oh-lee)

millions of tiny sacs at the very ends of the smallest airways/tubes in the lungs. This is where oxygen is absorbed into the blood and carbon dioxide is released from the blood here.

Beta-agonists (bay-ta aa-go-nists)

This is a type of medication that works to relax the muscles in the airways allowing them to widen and improve air flow. They are available as rescue relievers and controllers.

BiPAP (bye pap) (bi-level positive airway pressure) machine

A breathing machine to provide assistance in breathing through a tight fitting mask. This machine if often used in the emergency department or hospital if breathing is too difficult.

Bronchial tubes (brawn-key-el)

The larger airways of the lungs.

Bronchioles (brawn-key-o-lees)

Smaller airways of the lungs that lead to the alveoli.

Bronchodilators (brawn-coe-die-lay-ters)

This is a type of medication that works to relax the muscles in the airways allowing them to widen and improve air flow. They are available as rescue relievers and controllers.

Cannula (can-you-luh)

Plastic tubing used to supply oxygen through the nose.

Cilia (seal-lee-ah)

Tiny, hair-like fibers that line the bronchial tubes in the lungs. These fibers help move mucus up through the tubes so it can be coughed out.

Corticosteroids (kort-te-coe-stair-royds)

Medicines that mimic the action of a group of hormones produced by adrenal glands. They are anti-inflammatory. This medicine can be inhaled or taken by mouth.

CPAP (see pap) (continuous positive airway pressure)

A technique for pumping a steady flow of air, at a constant pressure, into narrowed lung airways to keep them open.

Diaphragm (die-a-fram)

The muscle that separates the chests cavity from the stomach—the main muscle used for breathing.

Dyspnea (disp-nee-yuh)

Shortness of breath. Difficult or labored breathing.

Exacerbations (x-saa-cer-bay-shun)

Flare-ups of COPD in which symptoms get worse. Changes in medical treatment may be needed.

Hyperventilation (hi-per-ven-ti-lay-shun)

Rapid breathing often caused by being nervous or panicked but can also be caused by a worsening condition of the lungs.

Hypoxia (hi-pock-see-mee-ah)

Too little oxygen in the body.

Inhaler (in-hell-er)

A portable hand-held device to take inhaled medicine in a couple of breaths.

Intubation (in-too-bay-shun)

Providing assistance with breathing by putting a tube, which is connected to a ventilator or respirator machine, through the nose or mouth and directly into the lungs. Allows the machine to do all or some of the breathing.

Liquid Oxygen (LOX) (li-kwid ahk-su-gin)

This is oxygen condensed into a liquid state by extreme cold. A small amount of liquid oxygen is a very large amount of oxygen gas. The big tank at your house can also fill easy-to-carry smaller tanks when you leave your house.

Nebulizer (neh bew lie zer)

This is a device that delivers liquid medicines in a fine spray or mist. It requires no special coordination. It is a good method for getting drugs directly into the lungs.

Non-invasive ventilation (ven-ti-lay-shun)

Ventilation done without using tubes or needles such as Bi-PAP.

Oxygen Concentrator (ahk-suh-gin con-sin-tray-tor)

A machine used for oxygen therapy. It has a pump that takes oxygen from the air and moves it through a long narrow tube into the nose. It concentrates the amount of oxygen taken from the air. There are now portable oxygen concentrators available.

Oxygen Therapy (ahk-su-gin thair-ah-pee)

A medically prescribed system of providing additional oxygen to the body. It is prescribed when diseased lungs are not able to meet the body’s oxygen needs.

Physiotherapy (fizz-ee-oh-thair-ah-pee)

A treatment performed by respiratory therapists that involved tapping on the chest and/or back to shake mucus loose.

Phosphodiesterase-4 Inhibitor (PDE-4 Inhibitor) (fahs foe di aa stir ace)

A type of “controller” medication that helps control airway inflammation. May help decrease COPD exacerbations.

Pneumonia (new-moan-ya)

An infection of one or both lungs in which organisms (bacteria, viruses, or fungi) settle in the air sacs where they grow rapidly.

Pulmonary Rehabilitation (pull mon air ree re ha bill ii tay shun)

It is more than just physical therapy. It is a supervised program that includes exercise training, health education, and breathing techniques for people with lung diseases.

Pulse Oximetry (ahk-sim-e-tree)

This test measures how much oxygen is in your blood. The test is easy and the result is a percentage. A sensor on your finger or ear with a light will be used to measure the oxygen content in your blood. The result of this test may show if you need oxygen therapy.

Sleep apnea (app-knee-ah)

A condition in which you stop breathing for too long, too often while you sleep. Can also be when breathing is too shallow during sleep.

Spirometry (spuh-rom-ah-tree)

This is a type of lung function test. It measures how well you breathe out and the largest breath you are able to take in. It is used to help diagnose lung diseases.

Sputum (spuh tuhm)

Sputum or as it sometimes called phlegm is airway mucus and some saliva (“spit”) which are expectorated or coughed up when clearing the airways.

Theophylline (thee-oh-fi-leen)

A medicine that helps open the airways, making breathing easier.

Trachea (tray-key uh)

The largest airway in the respiratory system, sometimes called the windpipe.

Tracheostomy (tray-key-os-toe-mee)

When a breathing tube is put in the neck, rather than the nose or mouth. Sometimes used for longer term ventilation.


Resources and Support

The COPD Foundation offers resources such as COPD360social, an online community where you can connect with patients, caregivers and health care providers and ask questions, share your experiences and receive and provide support.