Breathing issues from asthma can be frustrating, and even worse is not knowing where to get help for asthmatic issues. Both allergists (allergy specialists) and pulmonologists (lung specialists) can help with the diagnosis and treatment of asthma, but there are important differences between these two professionals that can help you decide which will be the most helpful for you.
If you’re struggling with more consistent breathing issues related to asthma that may be triggered by allergies, an allergist is likely the best choice for you. If you’re suffering from an intense or sudden asthma attack with difficulty breathing, you should seek medical attention immediately and will likely be seen by a pulmonologist.
What’s the Difference Between an Allergist and a Pulmonologist?
Allergists and Pulmonologists are both board-certified doctors that have extra years of training as specialists in their field of expertise. They are similar in that they both are able to diagnose asthma and prescribe treatment for asthma patients. However, there are subtle differences between these two specialists that may matter when you’re seeking help with specific asthma symptoms or conditions.
Allergists are well versed in “allergic asthma” or asthma that is triggered by certain allergies. If asthma symptoms seem to flare up every time you are around a particular external influence, you may be diagnosed with allergic asthma and an allergist is probably the best person to determine a treatment plan.
Pulmonologists, on the other hand, focus on lung conditions and diseases, often treating more severe asthma cases that are triggered by stress, exercise, or other factors. When asthma attacks occur suddenly and severely, or return with an inconsistent pattern, a pulmonologist may be the best person to consult.
What To Expect with an Allergist
When you see an allergist, also sometimes called an immunologist, you will answer some initial questions about your symptoms and history, then undergo a basic physical examination. Allergy testing will likely be conducted during your first allergist visit to determine any specific allergies you may have. Allergy tests are extremely accurate and can detect both food allergies or external allergies that may be affecting your asthma.
Once you receive your allergy test results, your allergist can help you create an allergy and asthma action plan to outline your options for symptom management and treatment. This plan will identify basic information such as regular medications, as well as more detailed info about what to do in the event of an emergency asthma incident. This is a crucial step to make sure you receive proper medical care should you have a severe or sudden attack.
Allergists may also conduct a lung function test (spriometry) to better understand your condition. If the spirometry data shows you have poor lung function the allergist may refer you to a pulmonologist for further consultation. In some cases, depending on asthma type, either type of specialist may recommend daily spirometry at home to monitor your lung function over time.
What to Expect with a Pulmonologist
If you suffer a sudden or severe asthma attack and need to go to the hospital, it is likely that you will end up seeing a pulmonologist. Most emergency medical facilities have a pulmonologist on staff to assist with any breathing related conditions or incidents. If you see a pulmonologist in an emergency setting, they will quickly complete a physical examination then immediately start testing to determine and address the issue. It is important to mention any known asthma or allergy history to the pulmonologist so they can take this into consideration and decide the best form of treatment right away.
When you schedule an appointment with a pulmonologist the process may be similar, though with much less urgency and intensity. You will speak with the lung specialist about your symptoms and concerns, then they will perform a physical examination – complete with spirometry – to determine any problems with your lung health.
Once a diagnosis is made, the pulmonologist may refer you either to an allergist, if allergic asthma is suspected, or to a specific lung disease expert if required. Either way, the pulmonologist will work collaboratively with other specialists to help manage and treat your asthma issues.
How to Decide Which Doctor to See?
If your asthma seems to be triggered by certain stimuli or environments, an allergist is the best type of doctor for you to start with. An allergy specialist will be the best to provide you with allergy testing and treatment, so you can identify any allergens that may be making asthma worse and make a plan to avoid or deal with these triggers.
If your breathing difficulties are serious, unpredictable, or have been changing, you should tell your primary care provider so they can refer you to a pulmonologist. Pulmonologists will be able to do a deeper dive into your lung function and determine or eliminate any conditions that may be causing or contributing to asthma issues.
Severe and sudden breathing issues should always be addressed immediately, so it is crucial to seek medical attention from the nearest emergency facility right away if symptoms develop rapidly. Hospitals and emergency rooms will likely have a pulmonologist on duty who can administer any necessary medications, such as epinephrine, and treat any breathing issues.
Either of these knowledgeable medical professionals may end up referring you to the other for further evaluation, since immunology and pulmonology are closely intertwined.
Get Help with Allergic Asthma
Don’t wait for your next asthma attack to get help from a medical professional. An experienced allergy specialist can help you determine factors that may be worsening or triggering your asthma, then help determine your best options for treatment and symptom management. Breathe better with help from a trusted allergist today. Book a virtual or office consultation.