Specialty care for asthma can be confusing because each type of provider may have a different focus. Pediatric allergists specialize in the reactions of the immune system to common environmental allergens, such as pollens, dust mites, or pet dander, that can play a key role in asthma. Allergists use skin tests to detect allergies and may, in some cases, treat allergies by giving repeated small doses of the allergen. Pediatric pulmonary medicine physicians (also known as pulmonologists) specialize in lung diseases in children. These physicians perform lung function tests and procedures such as bronchoscopy, where a small camera is used to look inside the lung. Both allergists and pulmonologists treat asthma with the conventional medicines that have been described in this book. In specific cases, however, they may have a somewhat different approach to diagnosis and management of asthma.
Whether your child needs to see a specialist is an individual question to be discussed with your primary care provider. In most cases, mild asthma can be managed successfully by your regular physician or pediatrician. But a specialist can be very helpful if your child does not seem to be responding well to treatment or if your primary care provider has specific concerns and suggests that further testing may be needed. Beyond having added experience and training, specialists usually schedule extra time to delve into the specifics of more difficult cases. Since they focus on asthma, they may also have educational material, support staff, and other resources that can be very useful to you and your child.
Visiting a specialist may pose some potential problems. With more than one provider now treating your child, there is the potential for confusion and miscommunication. It’s important to make sure that information flows well between the specialist and your primary care provider, who will continue to prescribe your child’s medicines and see your child for acute illnesses.
Specialty care is expensive and can pose financial hardship if not covered by insurance, so it’s important to make sure that referrals and other needed forms are completed before seeing a specialist.