If you have asthma, it's important to carefully select an asthma specialist -- a doctor who understands respiratory problems and treats asthma -- as your health care provider. Here are some asthma specialists to consider:
Allergist. An allergist is a pediatrician or internist who has taken additional training to qualify as a specialist in allergy and immunology. An allergist specializes in allergies, asthma, and allergic asthma.
To diagnose asthma, your doctor will review your asthma symptoms, your medical and family history, and may perform lung function tests (also called pulmonary function tests). Your doctor will be interested in any breathing problems you might have had, as well as a family history of asthma or other lung conditions, allergies, or a skin disease called eczema. It is important that you describe your symptoms of asthma in detail (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness), including...
Internist. An internist is a doctor who specializes in internal medicine -- the study of diseases in adults, particularly those related to internal organs -- and who has completed three years of training after medical school.
Pediatrician. A pediatrician is a doctor who has three years of special training in the field of pediatrics after medical school graduation. A pediatrician can diagnose and treat childhood asthma.
Pulmonologist. A pulmonologist has taken two or three additional years of training following residency in internal medicine or pediatrics to qualify as a specialist in respiratory diseases. Some pulmonologists may get additional board certification in critical-care medicine.
Pulmonary Rehabilitation Therapist. While not a physician, this nurse or respiratory therapist is trained in pulmonary rehabilitation techniques and can provide asthma support and information on exercise and asthma, lung function, and stress and asthma. The pulmonary rehabilitation therapist can help educate you on how to care for your symptoms of asthma.
Questions to Ask When Choosing an Asthma Specialist
Once you determine the type of asthma specialist you want to see, consider the following questions to help make the best choice:
Is the doctor board certified? This means that the doctor passed a standard exam given by the governing board in his or her specialty.
Where did the doctor go to medical school? Your local medical society can provide this information.
Is the doctor involved in any academic pursuits, such as teaching, writing, or research? Such a doctor may be more up-to-date in the latest developments in the treatment of asthma.
Where does the doctor have hospital privileges and where are these hospitals located? Some doctors may not admit patients to certain hospitals, and this is an important consideration for anyone with a chronic health problem.
Does the doctor accept your particular type of health insurance, or is the doctor a member of the medical panel associated with your HMO?
Changes in medical coverage may mean that the doctor you now see will not be the one you see in a year or two. This makes it even more important to understand your asthma diagnosis fully, stay abreast of treatment methods, and follow your asthma action plan.
American Lung Association: "Asthma: You and Your Doctor."
Smolley, L. Breathe Right Now, New York: Dell, 1999.
American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology: "What is a board certified Allergist/Immunologist?"