Asthma Specialists

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2023

Many doctors may help you manage your asthma. Primary care doctors are usually the first to diagnose asthma. If your asthma is more severe, your doctor may refer you to a specialist. A specialist can help you develop a plan to manage symptoms that are hard to control.1

Who can be your primary care doctor?

Primary care doctors are usually the first to diagnose asthma. They will use symptom history and tests to see how severe your asthma is. They may then suggest lifestyle changes and treatments. You may follow up with them to see how well medicines are working.1

Types of primary care doctors

Family doctors

Family doctors work to prevent, diagnose, and manage most health conditions. They provide healthcare for people of all ages. Family doctors are often the first contact when you have any health concerns. They can help you navigate the healthcare system and coordinate services.2

After medical school, family doctors train for 3 years in family medicine. During this time, they learn about all major medical areas. They also may get more specific training and expertise.2

Pediatricians

Pediatricians treat infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. They provide healthcare from birth through at least 21 years old. They work to prevent and diagnose many health conditions that affect children.3

After medical school, pediatricians train for 3 years in pediatrics. During this time, they get experience and further training in pediatric specialties. For example, they may learn about intensive care for newborns in addition to general pediatrics.3

Internists

Internists work to prevent, diagnose, and treat health conditions in adults. This is called internal medicine. Some internists focus on a specific illness or body part. For example, cardiologists specialize in heart-related conditions.4

After medical school, internists train for 3 years in internal medicine. During this time, they get experience managing health conditions in adults. They may continue training to specialize in an area after that.4

When do specialists get involved in asthma?

Certain doctors have specialized training to treat asthma. Your primary care doctor may refer you to these specialists if:1

  • Your doctor cannot clearly diagnose you with asthma
  • Your symptoms are related to your job
  • Your symptoms are not controlled by typical daily asthma treatments
  • You have any risk factors for asthma-related death
  • You have significant side effects from treatment
  • You have complications or severe asthma subtypes
  • You also have another condition, such as:
    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Specialists can help perform further testing to make the diagnosis clear. They also perform tests to see what types of add-on treatments work best for you. You may follow up with specialists to see how well these treatments work.1

Types of specialists who treat asthma

Pulmonologist

Pulmonologists specialize in breathing conditions. They diagnose and treat conditions related to the lungs, airways, nose, and throat. Many specialize in critical care, for serious illnesses. Some specialize in severe asthma.5

After medical school, pulmonologists train for 3 years in internal medicine. They then do 2 years of training to specialize in pulmonary conditions. Or they can do 3 years of training to specialize in pulmonary conditions and critical care.5

Allergist

Allergists specialize in the immune system and allergies. They diagnose and treat allergic asthma. They perform allergy testing and identify allergic triggers of asthma. They can suggest ways to treat allergic asthma, including allergy shots.6

After medical school, allergists train for 3 years in internal medicine and/or pediatrics. They then train for 2 years to specialize in allergies.6

Respiratory therapist

Respiratory therapists treat breathing problems caused by many conditions. They work with doctors and nurses to treat people of all ages. They play a key role in managing asthma symptoms by:7

  • Doing breathing treatments and exercises
  • Maintaining ventilators and advanced life support equipment
  • Performing lung function tests
  • Assisting medical staff during special procedures
  • Providing education and rehab services

Respiratory therapists get an associate's or bachelor’s degree. They then take an exam to become certified or registered. More certifications are available, for example, if they want to specialize in pediatrics or life support.7

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