When to See a Pulmonologist

8 Reasons Why a Respiratory Specialist May Be Needed

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If you are struggling with asthma or are unable to maintain control of your symptoms, you will likely be referred to a specialist known as a pulmonologist (commonly referred to as a lung doctor). Pulmonology is a field of medicine that focuses on the health of the respiratory system and addresses disorders of the lungs, airways, and respiratory muscles.

Pulmonology Training 

In order to become a pulmonologist, a doctor must complete a general internal medicine residency and partake in additional training focused solely on the respiratory system.

Many will also choose to train in critical care medicine as part of a dual specialty. The training, in total, will last around two to three years. While not a requirement, many pulmonologists will opt to pass a board certification exam to demonstrate their dedication to and expertise in the field of pulmonology.

In addition to asthma, a pulmonologist is certified to treat a wide range of respiratory conditions, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis, lung cancer, emphysema, sleep apnea, and tuberculosis.

8 Reasons to See a Pulmonologist

If you are unable to achieve good asthma control under the care of your primary care doctor, a pulmonologist may be needed. This is particularly true if asthma is out of the scope of your doctor's expertise. Pulmonologists may also be needed if you were newly diagnosed and are uncertain what the diagnosis means both in the short and long term.

You should consider seeing a pulmonologist if faced with any of the following situations:

  • You experienced a life-threatening asthma attack and were admitted to ICU.
  • You were hospitalized, and the trigger was not identified.
  • Your asthma remains poorly controlled after three to six months.
  • You need a specialized treatment such as bronchial thermoplasty.
  • You have needed oral steroids more than once per year.
  • You have moderate persistent or severe persistent asthma despite treatment.
  • You are a candidate for or want to explore asthma immunotherapy.
  • You have other respiratory symptoms besides asthma.

Broadly speaking, a specialist will be needed for individuals who are sicker, have more complicated asthma, or are failing to respond to standard therapies.

Role of Primary Care Doctor 

Finding a great pulmonologist doesn't mean that you are no longer in need of a primary care doctor. It's just the opposite.

While the pulmonologist has all of the skills need to perform the task of primary care, his or her practice is focused purely on pulmonology. By contrast, your primary care doctor is tasked with overseeing every aspect of your health, working alongside specialists (sometimes multiple specialists) to ensure that treatment plans are well coordinated and that one treatment approach doesn't undermine the other.

At the same time, many specialists do not want the responsibility of overseeing all of the facets of a person's health. This is where your primary care physician is a specialist, offering a consistent, holistic approach to care that other doctors don't.

Source:

American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. "Allergist and Pulmonologist Care of Asthma Compared to a Primary Care Specialist." Milwaukie, Wisconsin; February 14, 2012.

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