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Decision Assist

Asthma specialist


The purpose of this tool is to help you decide whether or not to see an asthma specialist. When making a decision like this, you must balance:

  • The reasons for seeing the specialist
  • Whether there are alternatives that may be more appropriate
  • Cost

This tool is not a substitute for professional medical care and advice. Ask your regular doctor to help you decide whether it is worth seeing a specialist. There is usually no exact "right" or "wrong" answer.

Your doctor may make certain recommendations to you. However, the final decision about whether to see a specialist rests with you.

What does this specialist do?

Asthma is when a person has periods of breathing difficulties, wheezing, coughing, or other symptoms. Most of the same things that trigger allergies can trigger asthma. Cold air, exercise, and other factors can cause asthma symptoms to flare.

Asthmatic bronchiole and normal bronchiole

A pediatrician, family doctor, or primary care doctor can manage asthma. Allergists and pulmonologists (specialists in respiratory diseases) have specific training in the care of asthma. Sometimes, they may be more familiar with current clinical guidelines, such as the National Institutes of Health asthma guidelines. Some patients may wish to see an allergist, pulmonologist, or other specialist for a second opinion or to establish an initial treatment plan.

Regardless of whether you see a specialist or not, find a physician who is interested in working with you as a team player. Try to keep track of important information in your daily log, so your doctor will be better able to help you. Remember -- asthma can be managed.

Key points

You probably should see an allergist or pulmonologist when:

  • You have had a life-threatening asthma episode.
  • Your treatment plan does not bring your asthma under control after 3 to 6 months.
  • You have other conditions that complicate the diagnosis (such as sinusitis, nasal polyps, severe allergies, vocal cord dysfunction, gastroesophageal reflux, bronchitis, or emphysema).
  • You suspect your breathing trouble may be due to a disease other than asthma.
  • You need additional testing (for example, for allergy shots).
  • You have "severe persistent" asthma, need continuous high-dose inhaled steroids, or have had more than two treatments with oral steroids in more than a year.
  • You have "steroid-dependent" asthma, requiring continuous or repeated use of oral steroids (such as prednisone).
  • You are a smoker and need medical assistance in quitting.
  • The patient is 5 years old or under and has moderate to severe asthma.

How much time this decision tool will take

  • 5 - 10 minutes

What this tool will provide

  • A personalized list of factors for you to weigh
  • Questions to ask your doctor
  • Alternatives seeing an asthma specialist
  • Recommended reading

Review Date: 9/12/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

  • National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report 3: Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma. Rockville, MD. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2007. NIH publications 08-4051.
  • Schatz, M, Zeiger, R, Mosen, D, et al. Improved asthma outcomes from allergy specialist care: a population-based cross sectional analysis. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2006; 116:1307-13.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.