Do You Need An Asthma Specialist?

Health Professional

So, when is a good time to see an asthma specialist?   That is a good question, and a common one.

Thanks to modern science and the National Heart, Blood and Lung Institute's asthma guidelines, most doctors are able to treat most asthmatics, and treat them well.

Yet, from time to time, there comes along an asthmatic whose asthma is difficult to control.   When this occurs it's time for your doctor to call in the reinforcements:   the asthma specialist or other specialist.

In my opinion, a wise person -- wise doctor in this case -- is one who knows the boundaries of his study, and knows when it's time to refer his patients to a specialist.

Asthma Specialists:   According to the asthma guidelines, this constitutes:

  • An Allergist: Specially trained in allergy and asthma
  • A Pulmonologist: Specially trained in lung disease
  • Ear, nose and throat doctor: They specialize in these areas
  • Other: Any doctor who has extensive training and specializes in asthma

Thankfully, in today's medical world, doctors can refer to the asthma guidelines for a little help.   The asthma guidelines (see page 71) recommend your physician refer you (or your asthmatic child) to an asthma specialist when:

  • You had a life-threatening asthma attack
  • You aren't meeting goals of asthma therapy after three to six months of treatment
  • You have difficult-to-manage asthma (hardluck asthma)
  • Your signs and symptoms of asthma are atypical
  • Your doctor has trouble diagnosing your asthma
  • Other conditions complicate your asthma, like allergies, sinusitis, nasal polyps, and severe rhinitis, GERD or COPD.
  • Additional diagnostic testing is needed, such as allergy testing, scope of your nose (rhinoscopy), pulmonary function studies, or scope of your lungs (bronchoscopy)
  • You need additional education or guidance.   Let's face it, sometimes it's hard to adjust to this disease.   You may need help learning what your asthma triggers are or how to avoid them.   You also may need help remembering to take your medicines, or taking them correctly.
  • Your doctor thinks you might benefit from allergy testing or allergy shots (immunotherapy)
  • Your doctor suspects you need more than just typical asthma care, or need closer managing or specialized asthma medicines.
  • You needed more than two bursts of corticosteroids within one year, or you needed to be hospitalized for your asthma
  • Your asthma is being caused by something you inhaled at work or other environmental inhalant that is complicating your asthma or treatment.

Psychological and Social Specialists:   Another thing that can complicate asthma are social or psychological circumstances.   These, among other things, may trigger asthma or complicate your (or your childs) ability to care for yourself:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Stress
  • Substance abuse
  • Marital problems
  • Abusive spouse or parents
  • Poverty

In this case, your doctor will want to refer you (or your child) to specialists   such as a psychologist or social worker.

When I was 15 in 1985 my asthma was so bad that my doctor referred me to the specialists at National Jewish Health (NJH).   While getting my asthma under control, my doctors realized anxiety was triggering my asthma and complicating my ability to care for myself.

I ended up staying at this asthma hospital for six months while they treated all these problems, and I have to admit, what I learned there still benefits me to this day.

While at NJH I also met kids who were  addicted to cigarettes or -- believe it or not -- drugs.   As you can imagine, these things complicated their asthma.

I also met a couple kids who had terrible home circumstances.   One kid had alcoholic parents, the other abusive parents.

Thankfully there were, and are, specialists to help us get our lives and our asthma under control despite these exceptional circumstances.

Family Counseling:   Sometimes family members, especially parents, need to see a specialist to learn how they can better take care of their family members, particularly their children.

The following are some examples of when family members might need help from a specialist:

  • General guidance in how to manage asthma
  • Parents of children with hardluck asthma
  • Parents of children with anxiety or depression
  • Parents in abusive homes
  • Substance abuse in home
  • Cigarette smoke in home

My parents received counseling before I left NJH to teach them what my asthma triggers were, and to show them how to make their home more asthma friendly.   They also learned how to better help me manage my asthma.

While specialty hospitals like NJH are still around to help asthmatics and asthmatic parents, their programs are mostly outpatient orientated.   Also, doctors are better educated today so most of us can get the care we need by specialists close to our homes.

And, while most doctors know when it's time to refer you to a specialist, sometimes you may need to nudge your doctor.   After all, doctors are only human.

If you think you or your child needs to see a specialist, don't be afraid to talk to your doctor.