When to See a Specialist for Asthma
When to See an Asthma Specialist
Getting the best asthma care doesn't have to be difficult, but it might be a good idea to see an asthma specialist or allergist. Find out how these specialists can help treat your asthma.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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When you're not feeling well, your family physician or general practitioner — who helps manage most of your sniffles, aches, and pains — may be the first place you go. But what if your cough and trouble breathing are actually symptoms of asthma, and require more expertise and care? It's time to think about seeing an asthma specialist.
What Is a Primary Care Physician?
By definition, a primary care physician is a general physician who has been trained in primary care — meaning that she can take care of a lot of daily health problems that people face. Primary care physicians don't specialize in any particular organ, illness, or system in the body, and are often the first line of care for someone who is ill.
A primary care physician may be a family doctor, a general practitioner, or a general internist. Once a specific or chronic problem is diagnosed, a primary care physician may refer a patient to a specialist trained in that particular condition.
What Is an Asthma Specialist?
An asthma specialist has been specially trained to deal with asthma. These physicians have a total of at least nine years of training, including a two-year fellowship program focusing on either allergic diseases or lung diseases.
An asthma specialist can work with patients to help prevent, diagnose, and treat asthma, allergies and related disease, as those chronic problems aren't just simply cured and made to disappear.
Types of Asthma Specialists
There are a couple different types of asthma specialists who can treat people with asthma:
- An allergist/immunologist, specially trained in treating allergic diseases including asthma.
- A pulmonologist, who specializes in diseases affecting the lungs and breathing including asthma.
These doctors are trained to help people with asthma, and may be able to offer a better variety of treatment and prevention options than a primary care physician.
Which Specialist Should I See?
The choice of which and what type of doctor should always be up to you, but it's important to understand the differences between an asthma specialist and a primary care physician, and the limitations and benefits of each.
An asthma specialist can help:
- Limit the number of sick daysof lost work and school due to asthma
- Provide better daily managementof asthma and allergies
- Reduce the number of emergency room visitsdue to asthma attacks
While anyone with asthma may benefit from seeing an asthma specialist, it may only be really necessary for someone with severe, difficult-to-control asthma. An asthma specialist may be a good idea for someone who:
- Is unable to control their asthmaafter a few months of treatment and has been hospitalized for asthma
- Has other health conditionsin addition to asthma
- Has life-threatening asthma attacks
- Is experiencing unusual asthma symptoms
- Might be a good candidate for immunotherapy(allergy shots)
Only you and your doctor can know who can offer the best asthma care for your problems. If you have minor asthma that gives you few problems and is well controlled, you may not need to find an asthma specialist and may get sufficient care from your primary care physician. But, if you've been trying to manage asthma for months without relief of symptoms, an asthma specialist may offer more insight and better management options to keep your asthma under control.
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