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Seeing a Pulmonologist for Asthma Treatment

One Kind of Asthma Specialist

By Carol Sorgen

Updated February 21, 2008

(LifeWire) - A pulmonologist is one type of asthma specialist you may choose to treat your asthma. Many asthma patients see a specialist who has received additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of their disease, in addition to their primary care physician. A pulmonologist, or pulmonary disease specialist, is one such doctor. A pulmonologist is a skilled physician who has specialized knowledge of pulmonary (lung) conditions and diseases.

A primary care physician can usually refer an asthma patient to a pulmonologist who can test for allergies and work with the patient to better control both allergies and asthma. For more help in finding a pulmonologist, call a local hospital or medical center, medical society, physician referral service, or nearby medical school. Managed care plans can also provide a list of these specialized doctors.

Besides personal and professional recommendations, other things to consider when choosing a doctor include:

  • Insurance coverage: What insurance does the doctor accept? Is this doctor a member of your healthcare plan?

  • Accreditation and board certification: Is the doctor accredited and board certified in an asthma-related specialty?

  • Location and hours: Is the doctor's office close to your work and/or home? Are the hours convenient? Is the office open in the evening and on weekends?

  • Availability: Who will see patients when the doctor is not available?

  • Personality of the doctor: Does the doctor communicate well, listen carefully, answer questions and explain things clearly?

Once a pulmonologist has been selected, make the first appointment. It is helpful to write down any questions ahead of time, including those about the doctor's practice. In addition, bring a list of all medicines currently being taken, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements. Also bring past medical records or have them sent to the pulmonologist from your current medical doctor's office; there may be a fee for these records.

During the first visit, the doctor will probably establish a chart that includes a medical history. The doctor will also do a physical examination, which may include asthma tests such as spirometry, peak expiratory flow (PEF) and bronchial provocation.

Spirometry is a reliable test used by pulmonologists to measure how much air enters and leaves the lungs. During this test, the doctor will use a measuring instrument known as a spirometer. The patient exhales, inhales and then blows forcefully as long as he or she can into the mouthpiece of the spirometer to measure several lung capacities.

Asthma symptoms may differ from patient to patient. A person who has chronic asthma may still have normal spirometer measurements; if this is the case, the pulmonologist will usually also measure the PEF rate. A peak flow meter is a small instrument that measures how forcefully an individual can blow air into a small tube. The patient takes the peak flow meter home and tests his or her PEF rate 2 times a day for about 2 weeks, while recording the results for the doctor to review at the next appointment.

The third test a pulmonologist may perform is bronchial provocation, which can help the doctor identify hyperresponsive airways. This test is used if the doctor suspects a patient has asthma but it is not confirmed through spirometry or the PEF test. In a bronchial provocation test, the patient inhales a chemical in an aerosol form that triggers a hyperresponsive reaction.

Once the pulmonologist has diagnosed asthma, he will prescribe the appropriate medications and devise a daily management plan to follow at home, work or school. The goal of the pulmonologist is to control asthma symptoms so they don't interfere with daily activities, awaken the patient at night, cause the patient to miss school or work, cause breathing difficulties during physical activities or cause the patient to have to go to the ER.

It is important to build a strong doctor-patient relationship. Controlling asthma means working together to establish and maintain good health. Once the asthma and allergies are in check, the frequency of visits to the pulmonologist may decrease. Finding a pulmonologist who can help to accomplish this is an important part of the process.

Related Articles

Sources:

"Asthma: Diagnosis." PulminologyChannel.com. 1 Jun. 2000. Healthcommunities.com. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.pulmonologychannel.com/asthma/diagnosis.shtml>.

"Choosing an Asthma Doctor." aafa.org 2005. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.aafa.org/display.cfm?id=8&sub=16&cont=45>.

Dunsky, Eliot H., Mark E. Goldstein, Donald J. Dvorin, George A. Belecanech, Irene C. Haralabatos, Nancy D. Gordon, and Heather J. Moday. "Understanding Asthma: The Asthma Center Education and Research Fund Manual, 4th Edition," The Asthma Center.org 2005. The Asthma Center Education and Research Fund. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.asthmacenter.com/AsthmaManual.pdf>.

Schatz, Michael, Robert S. Zeiger, David Mosen, Andrea J. Apter, MD, William M. Volmer, Thomas B. Stibolt, Albin Leong, Michael S. Johnson, Guillermo Mendoza, and E. Francis Cook. "Improved Asthma Outcomes from Allergy Specialist Care: A Population-Based Cross-Sectional Analysis." The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (2005) 116:1307-1313. 22 Jan. 2008 <http://www.jacionline.org/article/>

"What is a Pulminologist?." PulminologyChannel.com. 10 Oct. 2007. Healthcommunities.com. 31 Oct. 2007 <http://www.pulmonologychannel.com/pulmonologist.shtml>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Carol Sorgen is a freelance writer in Baltimore, Md., who writes frequently on health and wellness issues for such publications as WebMD, Today's Diet & Nutrition, The Washington Post, and the Baltimore Sun.
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