If you have seen your primary doctor for a breathing issue, they may have referred you to a pulmonologist. Here, we discuss what this specialist is, what they treat, and how seeing a pulmonologist may help you.
What is a Pulmonologist?
A pulmonologist is a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the respiratory system. This doctor has studied in the field of internal medicine, including a complete internal medicine residency, before continuing their education in the area of pulmonology. The field of sleep medicine is also part of pulmonology. In addition to treating sleep disorders that involve the respiratory system, such as sleep apnea, board-certified pulmonologists also diagnose and treat conditions such as COPD, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and others.
What Does a Pulmonologist Do?
A pulmonologist assists patients with the treatment and management of serious or chronic breathing problems. While a general practitioner may be able to treat mild and short-term conditions like a minor case of bronchitis or a slight respiratory infection, a pulmonologist usually becomes involved in care when the problem is persistent or more complex.
Seeing a pulmonologist usually involves specialized testing to determine an accurate diagnosis for respiratory symptoms. This doctor has a variety of ways to assess lung health, from bloodwork to chest x-rays, CT scans to spirometry, bronchoscopies to sleep studies. The tests ordered by the pulmonologist are selected based on the symptoms the patient presents with.
After reaching a definitive diagnosis, the pulmonologist then creates a personalized treatment plan. Some patients require medication or other therapies involved in pulmonary rehabilitation. Some require surgery. A pulmonologist provides the most conservative care possible in each situation.
When Is It Necessary to See a Pulmonologist?
Many of the conditions that involve the respiratory system are managed by primary care physicians. When symptoms like a cough persist, the general physician may first refer a patient to an ear, nose, and throat doctor. If a patient has a known cardiac condition, a cardiologist may call in the help of a pulmonologist to assist with long-term care planning and testing. Generally, it is wise to see a pulmonologist if any cough persists for more than 3 weeks or if the cough is severe. The general physician is often the point of contact for the origination of this referral. Additional reasons for a referral to a pulmonary specialist include:
- Difficulty breathing, especially during exercise
- Chest pain or tightness
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
- Asthma that not under control or has unidentified triggers
- Recurring or chronic bronchitis or colds