The official blog of the Lung Institute.
Treating Lung Disease
A pulmonologist is a physician that specializes in diagnosing and treating disease that develop in the lungs and respiratory system. When an individual is diagnosed with a debilitating disease like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or pulmonary fibrosis, it is common for them to ask, “Is a pulmonologist needed for respiratory care?” Everybody wants the best possible care when it comes to treating a disease, but many minor lung ailments can be treated successfully by a general internist.
How is a Pulmonologist Trained?
A Pulmonologists first studies for a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or a field that allows for transition into medical school after graduation. Then, the individual spends an additional 4 years attending medical school, and in traditional fashion, spends time working one-on-one with patients during the process. Education for a pulmonologist does not end when he or she graduates from medical school with a doctorate in medicine. They continue their studies during a 3-year residency followed by 2 more years of specialty training as a pulmonologist. After they pass their medical licensing examination, they can apply their 13 years of education as a pulmonologist.
When is a Pulmonologist Needed?
The complexities of a disease are typically the deciding factor as to whether a pulmonologist is needed for treatment. Even some progressive and chronic diseases can be treated by an internist. A pulmonologist steps in when complications arise in minor diseases, and to treat ailments that have compounding symptoms that prevent the lungs from functioning at safe levels. Some of the more common diseases for a pulmonologist to treat are:
- Interstitial lung disease (ILD)
- Chronic bronchitis
- Pulmonary Fibrosis
Pulmonologists do not perform surgery. If surgery is decided to be a part of your treatment plan, a thoracic surgeon will be used. A thoracic surgeon specializes in surgeries of the chest, typically the heart, lungs and esophagus. A pulmonologist may also work in conjunction with other physicians and medical personnel to comprise a comprehensive approach to treatment. This list of additional medical professionals used in treating lung disease may include:
- Thoracic surgeon
- Physical therapist
- General practitioner
- Various other caregivers
There is no standard lung disease treatment plan, every program is different because each patient is different. A pulmonologist will look closely at your symptoms and will analyze your condition to best assess the treatment you need. If you suffer from symptoms similar to those of COPD or another chronic lung disease, seek help from your primary physician. If diagnosed, ask if you condition calls for the inclusion of a pulmonologist in your treatment plan.