Pulmonology is an area of medicine that focuses on the health of the respiratory system. Pulmonologists treat everything from asthma to tuberculosis.
What is the respiratory system?
The respiratory system includes the organs that help you breathe. The three major parts of this system are the airway, the lungs, and the respiratory muscles.
The airway includes the:
You use several muscles during respiration. The most notable is the diaphragm. The other muscles are categorized in groups, including:
intercostal muscles, which help with inhalation
accessory muscles, which help with inhalation but don’t play a primary role
exhalation muscles, which help with forceful or active exhalation
What is a pulmonologist?
These specialists diagnose and 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:
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 first 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 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
lung transplantation, management before and after surgery
neuromuscular disease, which refers to conditions that occur due to respiratory muscle failure
obstructive lung disease, which involves airway narrowing or obstruction
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 your 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, chemicals, or proteins
obstructive sleep apnea, which causes your breathing to slow or stop entirely when you’re sleeping
What procedures do pulmonologists use?
Pulmonologists can use and interpret exams and tests to help determine a lung-related diagnosis. These may include the following:
CT scan to get detailed images of the bones, muscles, fat organs, and blood vessels in your chest
chest fluoroscopy, an X-ray test to see how well your lungs are functioning
chest ultrasound to examine the organs and other chest structures
pleural biopsy to remove a small tissue sample from the pleura, which is the membrane that surrounds your lungs
pulmonary function test, a breathing test to see how well your lungs are working
pulse oximetry test to determine the oxygen saturation level in your blood
thoracentesis to remove and sample fluid from around your lungs
chest tube 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 diagnose sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea
In the case of more serious lung diseases and conditions, a pulmonologist may refer you to a chest surgeon for procedures, such as a lobectomy to remove a portion of a diseased lung or a lung transplant
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 or mucus
have unexplained weight loss
have trouble exercising due to breathing problems