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Ask the Experts
A pulmonologist is a physician who specializes in the respiratory system. From the windpipe to the lungs, if your complaint involves the lungs or any part of the respiratory system, a pulmonologist is the doctor you want to solve the problem.
Pulmonology is a medical field of study within internal medicine. These doctors go through the same training as an internist. They receive their degree, complete an internal medicine residency, then several years as a fellow focused primarily on pulmonology and often includes critical care and sleep medicine. After that, they have to take and pass specialty exams, and only then are they able to take patients as a Board-Certified pulmonologist.
While the respiratory system is a specialty in itself, pulmonologists can specialize even further. Some of these doctors focus on certain diseases, like asthma, pulmonary fibrosis and COPD, while others treat unique demographics, like pediatric patients or geriatric patients.
Because many lung and heart conditions present similar symptoms, pulmonologists often work with cardiologists while diagnosing patients. You’ll also see them frequently in hospital settings. Patients that need life support or manual ventilation in order to breathe will have a pulmonologist overseeing that element of their care.
When should you see a pulmonologist?
A simple cough associated with allergies or a cold shouldn’t send you looking for a pulmonary specialist. Urgent care or your primary care doctor should be your first stop, and then on to an allergist or ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
You should see a pulmonologist if that cough persists for more than 3 weeks, or if it becomes severe. This should be done in consultation with your primary care doctor.
When else should you see a pulmonologist? The below symptoms can be related to a lung condition and a pulmonary specialist may be helpful:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting
- Difficulty breathing, especially during exercise
- Recurring or chronic bronchitis or colds that impact your respiratory system
- Asthma that isn’t well-controlled, or has unidentified triggers