Medically Reviewed by Paul Boyce, MD on August 22, 2022
4 min read

A pulmonologist is a doctor who diagnoses and treats diseases of the respiratory system -- the lungs and other organs that help you breathe.

For some relatively short-lasting illnesses that affect your lungs, like the flu or pneumonia, you might be able to get all the care you need from your regular doctor. But if your cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms don't get better, you might need to see a pulmonologist.

What is pulmonology?

Internal medicine is the type of medical care that deals with adult health, and pulmonology is one of its many fields. Pulmonologists focus on the respiratory system and diseases that affect it. The respiratory system includes your:

  • Mouth and nose
  • Sinuses
  • Throat (pharynx)
  • Voice box (larynx)
  • Windpipe (trachea)
  • Bronchial tubes
  • Lungs and things inside them like bronchioles and alveoli
  • Diaphragm

A pulmonologist can treat many kinds of lung problems. These include:


A pulmonologist's training starts with a medical school degree. Then, they do an internal medicine residency at a hospital for 3 years to get more experience. After their residency, doctors can get certified in internal medicine by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

That's followed by years of specialized training as a fellow in pulmonary medicine. Finally, they must pass specialty exams to become board-certified in pulmonology. Some doctors get even more training in Interventional Pulmonary, pulmonary hypertension, and lung transplantation. Others might specialize in younger or older patients.

Pulmonologists use tests to figure out what kind of lung problem you have. They might ask you to get:

  • Blood tests. They check levels of oxygen and other things in your blood.
  • Bronchoscopy. It uses a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end to see inside your lungs and airways.
  • X-rays. They use low doses of radiation to make images of your lungs and other things in your chest.
  • CT scan. It's a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures of the inside of your chest.
  • Spirometry. This tests how well your lungs work by measuring how hard you can breathe air in and out.


Pulmonologists can do special procedures such as:

  • Pulmonary hygiene. This clears fluid and mucus from your lungs.
  • Airway ablation. This opens blocked air passages or eases difficult breathing.
  • Biopsy. This takes tissue samples to diagnose disease.
  • Bronchoscopy. This looks inside your lungs and airways to diagnose disease.


You might see a pulmonologist if you have symptoms such as:

Your health insurance company might want you to get a referral from your regular doctor before you can see a pulmonologist. Even if it doesn’t, you can still ask your doctor for a recommendation.

Another way to find a pulmonary specialist is to check your insurance company's network of providers. Then you'll know that your plan covers the doctor you choose.