Depending on the type and severity of your asthma, one or more doctors may be involved in your care. Specialists for asthma along with primary doctors can be extremely beneficial in managing symptoms and developing an asthma action plan.
Primary care doctors
Internists, family physicians, and pediatricians are primary care doctors. Typically, your primary care doctor is the first to diagnose you or your child with asthma. Your doctor will evaluate how severe your asthma is. Based on the severity, he or she will prescribe medications and make recommendations about how to manage your asthma. After you start treatment, you will probably follow-up with your primary care doctor to see how well the medications are working.
After medical school, these doctors go through three years of training in internal medicine. They take a test to become board certified in internal medicine. Some internists continue their training to specialize in one area. Internists are skilled in treating and preventing chronic diseases in adults.1
After medical school, these doctors do three years of training in family medicine. They take a test to become board certified in family medicine. Some family doctors train to become board certified in two fields. Family doctors may also do additional training in specific areas. Family doctors provide care for adults and children. They treat a wide array of diseases.2
After medical school, these doctors do a three-year training program in pediatrics. To become board certified in pediatrics, they must pass a test. To maintain board certification, they must participate in five-year cycles of learning activities and take a test every ten years. Some pediatricians continue their training to specialize in one area. Pediatricians treat a broad range of physical and mental conditions in children from birth to 21 years.3
Allergists and pulmonologists are specialists for asthma.4 There are many reasons that your primary care doctor may refer you to an asthma specialist, including:
- You have moderate or severe asthma.
- You have had a life-threatening asthma attack.
- You have been taking medications for three to six months and your asthma is not under control.
- You need additional testing to confirm the diagnosis of asthma or rule out other conditions.
- You have other diseases or conditions that make it hard to manage your asthma, such as GERD, COPD, or vocal cord dysfunction.
Allergists are experts in the immune system, allergies, and asthma. After medical school, these doctors go through three years of training in internal medicine or pediatrics. They take a test to become board certified in one of these fields. They do an additional two years of training in allergy and immunology. They must pass a test from the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. Allergists usually see patients outside the hospital.5
People with allergic asthma may be referred to an allergist. Allergists perform allergy skin testing and prescribe allergy shots when appropriate.6
Pulmonologists are experts in lung disease in general. After medical school, these doctors go through three years of training in internal medicine. They take a test to become board certified in internal medicine. They do an additional two to three years of training pulmonary disease and possibly, critical care. They must pass the test from the American Board of Internal Medicine.7 Many pulmonologists focus on the care of critically ill patients in the hospital.5 Some specialize in the treatment of severe asthma.
Respiratory therapists are allied health professionals who provide short and long-term respiratory care services to patients with asthma and other lung diseases. They administer various types of breathing treatments, maintain advanced life support equipment, perform various lung function tests, and assist the medical staff during special procedures. Respiratory therapists also provide patient education and rehabilitation services.
There are two credentials for respiratory therapists: Certified Respiratory Technician (entry-level) and Registered Respiratory Therapist (advanced). Respiratory therapists must have at least an Associates's degree from an accredited program in respiratory therapy. Many have a Bachelors's degree. Program graduates must pass a national exam in order to earn their credentials and must be licensed in the state where they practice.8
Respiratory therapists educate and instruct people with asthma on the proper use of inhalers, peak flow meters and other treatment modalities to better manage their asthma.