What is asthma?
Asthma is a chronic condition that causes narrowing of the airways and difficulty breathing. There is no cure for asthma, but treatment can help manage symptoms. Asthma symptoms include:
- breathing difficulty
- shortness of breath
You may also experience chest tightness and throat irritation. These symptoms may appear more often in cold weather, when you’re sick, or when you’re exposed to irritants. Irritants include cigarette smoke, pollen, and pet dander.
There are different types of doctors who can help diagnose and treat your asthma. The doctor you choose may depend on your health, age, and the severity of your asthma. Having an ongoing relationship with your doctor can help you manage your asthma symptoms.
Read on to learn about which doctors can help you manage your condition.
Find a Doctor
If you’re experiencing asthma-like symptoms or if you’re unsure what your symptoms mean, make an appointment with your family doctor. In the case your family doctor doesn’t have experience in treating respiratory illnesses, they will refer you to a specialist.
Credentials: Your family doctor should have an MD, which means doctor of medicine. They may also have a D.O., which means “doctor of osteopathic medicine.” Both degrees lead to licensure as a physician. Your family doctor should have a physician’s license in the state they practice in.
You should see a pediatrician if your child has asthma symptoms. Your child's pediatrician can diagnose and treat childhood asthma. They can also rule out other possible causes for your child’s symptoms. Your pediatrician may also refer you to a specialist for testing and treatment.
Credentials: Becoming a pediatrician requires at least three years of pediatric residency training beyond medical school. Your pediatrician may also be board certified in pediatric pulmonology.
A pediatrician has special training in caring for children from infancy through college — up to age 21.
You should see a pulmonologist if you have a disease that affects your respiratory system. Your doctor may refer you to a pulmonologist if your asthma symptoms have a more severe cause.
A pulmonologist specializes in diseases that affect your lungs, upper airways, thoracic cavity, and chest wall. They have special training with prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of lung and respiratory illnesses.
Credentials: A pulmonologist must complete at least two years of graduate training in pulmonary diseases after medical school. These doctors can treat asthma and other breathing conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and emphysema.
Allergist or immunologist
You may want to see an allergist if your asthma symptoms are related to allergies. An allergist, or immunologist, specializes in allergies. Asthma is often the result of an intense response to harmless compounds.
Allergy flare-ups start in the immune system. Working with an allergist can help you identify factors causing your symptoms. An allergist or immunologist can check your symptoms, conduct diagnostic testing, and determine whether your immune system is the source of your asthma.
Credentials: An allergist is a doctor who has completed extra training for issues related to the immune system. In the United States, an allergist has an extra nine years of training after getting their bachelor’s degree. At least two of these years will be spent in specialized training in allergy and immunology. They may be further certified in pediatric pulmonology.
Respiratory therapists treat airway and breathing problems caused by asthma and other disorders. These professionals play a significant role in the management and control of asthma symptoms. They offer immediate care in emergency settings.
Respiratory therapists can help restore normal breathing and assist with pulmonary rehabilitation. They carry out the treatment orders of your doctor. For example, a respiratory therapist can:
- guide patients through breathing treatments and exercises to help restore their lung function
- set up and check your ventilator so that it’s providing the right amount of oxygen
- do diagnostic testing
- remove mucus from lungs through chest physiotherapy
Credentials: Respiratory therapists graduate from an accredited respiratory therapy program. This may be done at a certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree level. These therapists can also provide both inpatient and outpatient care.
You can see an internist if your family doctor doesn’t specialize in respiratory illnesses. Internists can act as consultants for physicians.
An internist is a doctor specializing in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases that affect adults. Although these doctors treat a range of adult health problems, some internists complete extra training in subspecialties. While there is no special certification for asthma, there is a certification for pulmonary disease.
Credentials: Asthma internists are required to complete a basic three-year internal medicine residency, plus one to three years of training to qualify in pulmonary medicine, generally in an accredited fellowship program.
What to ask when
choosing a specialist
To make the most of out the time with your doctor, be prepared for your appointment. During your appointment, your doctor may ask questions about your personal medical history, family history, and symptoms.
Questions you could ask your doctor include:
- How do I know if I have asthma or an allergy?
- Do I need allergy testing before you can treat my asthma symptoms?
- Will I have to take shots? Or use an inhaler?
- What is the medicine used in inhalers? What are the side effects?
- Can I do anything to prevent my asthma attacks?
- What does it mean if my asthma only happens during physical activity?
Asthma isn't curable, but treatment can help. Talk to your family doctor first to learn more about your asthma. It’s possible your doctor may refer you to a specialist for treatment.
Treatment can help you manage your asthma symptoms and reduce flare-ups. By working with the right asthma doctors, you can receive an effective treatment plan and reduce the risk of complications associated with asthma.