Pulmonologist or Asthma Specialist?
What's the difference between a pulmonologist and an allergy and asthma specialist?
Allergy and Asthma Specialist
An allergy and asthma specialist is a doctor that specializes in just that: allergies and asthma. Generally if you have allergic asthma, this is the ideal doctor for you. They are board-certified in allergy and asthma and have had years of extra training to treat both issues. If you need to have environmental or food allergy testing it will mostly likely take place in an allergists office.
Lung function testing can also be done in most allergists' offices. An allergy/asthma specialist can help come up with a treatment plan for your allergies and asthma, such as mediations and ways to avoid and treat allergy symptoms, especially those that set off your asthma.
A Pulmonologist is a specialty doctor that specializes specifically in lung conditions and respiratory diseases, including disorders of the respiratory system. These disorders may affect the lungs, upper airways, the thoracic cavity, and chest wall. This also includes other parts of the body that affect the lungs and their function. Some examples include asthma, COPD, emphysema, cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, pulmonary hypertension, and sleep disorders to name a few.
Pulmonologists are classified under the Internal Medicine sub-specialty. After being board certified in internal medicine and receiving additional training specifically in pulmonary medicine, they take the exam to become board certified in pulmonary medicine. Pulmonologists are the ones who can perform complete pulmonary (lung) function testing as well as diagnostic bronchoscopy as needed.
Is a pulmonologist or asthma specialist right for me?
If you are finding that your asthma isn't being adequately controlled with the help of your primary care doctor, you should consider being referred to an asthma specialist or pulmonologist. If you are needing to use your rescue inhaler more than twice a week, or are needing more than one or two courses of oral steroids in a year, a Pulmonologist or asthma specialist may be beneficial for you. For people with allergy-driven asthma, an allergist is the way to go. They're the experts on how to help you gain control over your allergies that set off your asthma.
If the asthma diagnosis is in question or not determined completely yet, a Pulmonologist has the tools and capabilities for complete lung function testing and other tests (such as a methacholine challenge) that can better confirm or rule out asthma.
I am a firm believer that most asthmatics should be followed by a specialist. There are many amazing primary/general practitioner doctors out there that are equipped to handle mild intermittent asthma; however, in my opinion, an asthma specialist or Pulmonologist is a better choice. I was followed by my primary care doctor for many years until my asthma started being more bothersome and my doctor referred me to a Pulmonologist.
Both specialists are highly trained in the diagnosis and treatment of asthma. If your asthma is classified as more than mild intermittent, I would highly recommend being referred to a specialist.
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