Pulmonary medicine is a subspecialty of internal medicine that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of conditions that affect the lungs and respiratory tract in general. Pulmonology often involves taking care of patients who need life support and mechanical ventilation. A pulmonologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of pulmonary conditions and diseases of the chest, particularly pneumonia, asthma, tuberculosis, emphysema, and complicated chest infections.
What is a Pulmonologist?
Pulmonologists treat conditions that affect the respiratory system in men and women, as well as children. Pulmonologists have expertise in the following types of respiratory disorders:
A pulmonologist may work in their office or as part of a multidisciplinary practice. They can also work in hospital settings, particularly in intensive care units.
Education in Internal Medicine
- Graduation from an approved medical school
- Completion of an ACGME (American Council for Graduate Medical Education) accredited internal medicine residency program - takes a minimum of 3 years
- A minimum of 2 years of meaningful patient contact and responsibility
- Of the 2 years, 20 months must be spent in in-patient services, ambulatory settings, and in the services of dermatology or neurology
- 4 months may be taken outside the above areas, subject to program director approval
- The level of responsibility for patients must increase with each year of training
What Conditions Do Pulmonologists Treat?
Conditions pulmonologists commonly treat include:
- bronchiectasis, a condition that involves inflammation and excess mucus
- bronchitis, which happens when you have inflamed lower airways
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which causes an airflow blockage
- emphysema, which happens when the alveoli in the lungs are damaged
- interstitial lung diseases, which affect the space and tissue within the lung
- occupational lung diseases, which can occur due to the inhalation of dusts or chemicals
- obstructive sleep apnea, which causes your breathing to slow or stop entirely when you’re sleeping
Pulmonologists can perform large range of exams and tests to help diagnose lung-related issues:
- CT scan: To view detailed images of bones, muscles, fat organs and blood vessels
- Chest fluoroscopy: To view lung function
- Chest ultrasound: To examine organs and chest structures
- Lobectomy: To remove a lobe in the lungs
- Pleural biopsy: To remove small tissue sample from the membrane surrounding the lungs
- Pulse oximetry test: Oxygen saturation levels in blood
- Transplantation: To remove diseased lung and replace it with a healthy lung
- Bronchoscopy: To examine airway for issues in trachea, lower airways, throat or larynx
When Should you see a Pulmonologist?
If you’re having any unusual symptoms, you should definitely meet with your 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 or mucus
- have unexplained weight loss
- have trouble exercising due to breathing problems
Physicians are expected to develop skills in tests and procedures; to acquire knowledge in the fundamental disciplines of allergy, and immunopathology; to acquire experience in the evaluation of psychosocial aspects of chronic pulmonary disease, and counseling chronically ill patients and their families; and to become familiar with the operation of a pediatric pulmonology facility.