These specialists diagnose and treat conditions that affect the respiratory system in men and women. Pulmonologists have expertise in the following types of respiratory disorders:
neoplastic, which means having to do with a tumor
In some instances, this extends to the cardiovascular system. Certain conditions, such as pulmonary vascular disease, can affect the respiratory system but go on to affect other organs in the body.
A pulmonologist may work in their own office or as part of a multidisciplinary practice. They can also work in hospital settings, particularly in intensive care units.
What is pulmonology?
Pulmonology is a field of medicine that focuses specifically on diagnosing and treating disorders of the respiratory system.
Subspecialties of pulmonology can include:
interstitial lung disease, which focuses on lung diseases marked by persistent inflammation and scarring
interventional pulmonology, which employs multidisciplinary care to treat airway disorders, lung cancer, and pleural diseases
neuromuscular disease, which refers to conditions that occur due to respiratory muscle failure
obstructive lung disease, which involves airway narrowing or obstruction
Education and training requirements
To become a pulmonologist, you must earn a four-year college degree. From there, you must complete a four-year medical school program. You then must complete a three-year training program, or residency, in internal medicine.
After you complete your residency, you must complete a two to three-year fellowship. This allows you to get additional specialized training in pulmonology. You must pass a specialty board certification exam after you complete your fellowship.
What conditions do pulmonologists treat?
Conditions pulmonologists commonly treat include:
bronchiectasis, which occurs when your lungs can’t clear mucus
bronchitis, which happens when you have inflamed mucous membranes
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which causes an airflow blockage
emphysema, which happens when the alveoli in your lungs are damaged
interstitial lung diseases, which affect the space and tissue around the alveoli
occupational lung diseases, which can occur due to the inhalation of dusts, chemicals, or proteins
obstructive sleep apnea, which causes your breathing to slow or stop entirely when you’re sleeping
Check out: When asthma leads to bronchitis »
What procedures do pulmonologists perform?
Pulmonologists can perform exams and tests to help determine a lung-related diagnosis. This can include a:
CT scan to get detailed images of the bones, muscles, fat organs, and blood vessels in your chest
chest fluoroscopy to see how well your lungs are functioning
chest ultrasound to examine the organs and other chest structures
lobectomy to remove one of the lobes of your lungs
pleural biopsy to remove a small tissue sample from the pleura, which is the membrane that surrounds your lungs
pulmonary function test to see how well your lungs are working
pulse oximetry test to determine the oxygen saturation level in your blood
transplantation to remove the diseased lung and replace it with a healthy lung
thoracentesis to remove air or fluid from around your lungs
bronchoscopy to examine your airway and determine if you have any issues in your trachea, lower airways, throat, or larynx
sleep study to help them diagnose sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea
WHEN TO SEE A PULMONOLOGIST
When should you see a pulmonologist?
If you’re having any unusual symptoms, you should meet with your primary care doctor. They will perform a medical exam and assess your overall condition. They may refer you to a pulmonologist if you:
have difficulty breathing
have a persistent cough
regularly cough up blood