If you have noticed a change in your breathing, then the first step is to call your primary care physician. However, if you find you cannot catch your breath or you suspect an asthma attack, then you should get immediate help. Most hospitals have pulmonologists on call who can examine you and prescribe treatment until you have a chance to follow up with an allergist or pulmonologist.
Allergist or Pulmonologist?
When allergens are the suspected trigger, you should opt to see an allergist. If the breathing difficulties do not appear to be related to allergen triggers, then you should ask your doctor for a referral to a pulmonologist. Either an allergist or a pulmonologist can make an asthma diagnosis and prescribe treatment for asthma patients.
What is the difference between an allergist and a pulmonologist?
An allergist treats asthma patients whose primary triggers are environmental or suffering from what is known as allergic asthma, whereas, a pulmonologist specializes in lung disease and often treats more severe asthma cases. Typically, you will see a pulmonologist if you are involved in an emergency asthma situation and go to the hospital. Oftentimes, a pulmonologist will refer their patients to an allergist and work collaboratively to identify asthma triggers.
What can you expect when you see an Allergist?
An allergist or immunologist will often interview their patient, perform a physical examination, and then run a series of sensitivity/allergy tests. They can help you create an Asthma Action Plan and prescribe medications, including rescue medications in case of an emergency.
The asthma action plan will contain basic information like your name and any medications you take. The plan should also include what to do when an asthma attack occurs and when to seek medical attention. Writing this plan out will give you peace of mind knowing that you have a course of action in case of an emergency.
An allergist may also conduct lung function tests known as spirometry. If the spirometry data (FEV1 scores) indicates poor lung function, your allergist may refer you to a pulmonologist for further evaluation. For some asthma cases, either type of doctor may recommend daily at-home spirometry so that they can monitor your FEV1 scores over time.
Diagnosing & Treating Asthmatic Children
Many people find it interesting when they learn that children under 5 cannot be officially declared asthmatic. However, there are both allergists and pulmonologists that specialize in pediatric care. They will know what to look for when diagnosing asthma in children.
If you believe you have asthma, you should first discuss your condition with your Primary Care Physician. He or she will refer you to either an allergist or pulmonologist based on your discussion. If allergies are suspected, then you will likely be referred to an allergist. If you suffered from an acute attack, then there is a good possibility that you will be referred to a pulmonologist to determine if it might be asthma or some other type of lung disease.
Either the allergist or the pulmonologist may refer you to the other if further tests are needed.