Both allergists and pulmonologists treat asthmatic patients, so how do you know which one you should see?
What is the Difference Between an Allergist and a Pulmonologist?
An allergist treats asthma patients whose primary triggers are environmental, suffering from what is known as allergic asthma. On the other hand, a pulmonologist specializes in lung disease and often treats more severe asthma cases triggered by stress, exercise, etc.
Typically, you will see a pulmonologist if you are involved in an emergency asthma situation and go to the hospital. Oftentimes, a pulmonologist refers their patients to an allergist post-emergency and works 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 identify necessary medications, including emergency rescue medications.
An asthma action plan contains 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 provides peace of mind knowing that you have an emergency course of action.
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.
Deciding Which Doctor to See
If you notice your asthma flaring up after exposure to common allergens, 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.
It is important to note that 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 personal pulmonologist.
What About 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.