An occasional shortness of breath, cough, or cold can cause discomfort and are usually not serious. However, when symptoms tend to recur, do not go away, or cause distress, then it is time to see a pulmonologist.
If you have respiratory-related symptoms, or you were just diagnosed with a lung disease, finding a trustworthy, experienced pulmonologist is likely on the top of your list. However, even though many great doctors exist, not every pulmonologist will be the right fit for you.
Our goal here at MediFind is to give you more confidence in your health decisions, especially when settling on the right doctor. That’s why we created this guide—to empower you with the information you need to make the right decisions when choosing and working with a good pulmonologist. (Note: if you are currently experiencing new or serious symptoms you think may be related to a respiratory disease, call your doctor, visit your local emergency room, or call 911).
Your pulmonologist will likely be a part of your life for some time, so connecting with a physician you can trust is vital. Later on, in this guide, we will discuss finding the right pulmonologist who can treat your specific condition.
But first, let’s cover what the respiratory system is, what a pulmonologist does, and what to expect when you walk into a pulmonologist’s office.
- What is the Respiratory System?
- What is a Pulmonologist?
- What Does a Pulmonologist Do?
- Pulmonology Sub-specialties
- What Can a Pulmonologist Diagnose?
- Why Would You Be Referred to a Pulmonologist?
- How Do I Find a Pulmonologist Who Takes My Insurance?
- When Should I Travel to See a Pulmonology Expert?
- What to Expect at Your Pulmonologist Visit
- How to Find a Good Pulmonologist
What is the Respiratory System?
The respiratory system is made up of organs and tissues that help you to breathe.
The respiratory system includes:
- Nasal cavity
- Pharynx (throat)
- Larynx (voice box)
- Trachea (windpipe)
- Blood vessels, such as pulmonary artery
What is a Pulmonologist?
Pulmonologists are experts in diseases that affect the respiratory system. The respiratory system is made up of the organs and tissues that help you breathe and includes the nasal cavity, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe), bronchi, bronchioles, lungs, the blood vessels connecting these, and the muscles that make the lungs work. Diseases of the respiratory system are often called respiratory diseases. Common respiratory diseases include asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis (CF), emphysema, lung cancer, pneumonia, and pulmonary tuberculosis (TB).
What Does a Pulmonologist Do?
Pulmonologists specialize in diagnosing and treating respiratory diseases, which are a group of disorders characterized by conditions such as an increase in breathing rate, labored breathing, skin and nail color changes, nasal flaring, chest retractions, wheezing, forward leaning posture, low blood pressure, cough, and rapid heart rate.
Pulmonologists generally treat respiratory diseases with medications and pulmonary rehabilitation. If surgery is needed, they may refer you to other specialists, such as thoracic surgeon.
Even though a pulmonologist is a type of specialist, there are several sub-specialties within this discipline. A pulmonologist can receive specialized training to manage specific respiratory diseases in sub-specialties such as:
An interventional pulmonologist uses advanced, minimally-invasive techniques to diagnose and treat patients with benign and malignant (cancerous) lung disease. An interventional pulmonologist can perform procedures such as rigid and flexible bronchoscopy, airway stenting, argon plasma coagulation (APC), balloon dilation, bronchial thermoplasty (BT), bronchoscopic lung reduction, cryosurgery, and photodynamic therapy (PDT), among others.
A pediatric pulmonologist is an expert in respiratory diseases in children. Pediatric pulmonologists often see children with a wide range of breathing problems, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis (CF), sleep apnea, premature babies with chronic lung disease, and children with rare disorders, such as a part of the respiratory system that developed abnormally that makes it hard to breathe.
Additional subspecialties in pulmonology include cystic fibrosis (CF), sleep disorders, interstitial lung disease (ILD), pulmonary hypertension, and obstructive lung diseases, such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
What Can a Pulmonologist Diagnose?
Pulmonologists diagnose and treat respiratory diseases that affect the nasal cavity, pharynx (throat), larynx (voice box), trachea (windpipe), bronchi, bronchioles, lungs, the blood vessels connecting these, and the muscles that make the lungs work.
Some of the most common conditions treated by pulmonologists include:
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis (CF)
- Farmer’s lung
- Long COVID
- Lung cancer
- Interstitial lung disease
- Pulmonary tuberculosis
- Pulmonary fibrosis
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Rheumatoid lung disease
- Sleep apnea
Why Would You Be Referred to a Pulmonologist?
Almost everyone will have a mild cold now and then, but if you have you respiratory symptoms that recur, do not go away, or cause distress, you should first see your primary care physician. They may refer you to a pulmonologist for further evaluation to determine what may be the cause and its treatment.
Once you have a referral to see a pulmonologist, it is important to see them as soon as possible, so they can treat any potentially serious conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), to manage the condition and prevent complications.
Why Would You Need to See a Pulmonologist?
If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, you should first call your primary care physician who may refer you to a pulmonologist.
- Chronic cough lasting more than 3 weeks
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or breathing difficulty that causes dizziness
- Uncontrolled asthma
- Recurrent bronchitis
Note that in this article, we are discussing digestive issues that might or might not require emergency assistance. However, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, if you have any of the symptoms listed below, call 911 and/or visit an Emergency Room immediately:
- Rapid, increased breathing rate
- Bluish color around lips or in nailbeds
- Pale or grey skin
- Grunting on exhale
- Chest retractions when breathing
- Forward leaning body position
Lifestyle Habits and Pre-Existing Conditions that Affect Lung Health
Certain lifestyle habits, medical history, or pre-existing conditions also put you at greater risk of developing respiratory issues. If any of the below apply to you, you should consider visiting a pulmonologist:
- Current or past smoker
- Family history of lung cancer
- Exposure to indoor and outdoor pollutants
- Exposure to toxic and inhaled substances in the workplace
- Farm work
- A history of rheumatoid arthritis
- Exposure to or history of tuberculosis or other respiratory infections
How Do I Find a Pulmonologist Who Takes My Insurance?
With the high cost of medical care, it’s especially important to know whether your doctor accepts your private medical insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. While you can choose to be treated by a doctor who doesn’t accept your insurance, it’s important to understand how much you will have to pay out of pocket. MediFind always recommends calling the doctor’s office to confirm their acceptance of your insurance and to discuss possible costs and payment arrangements.
When Should I Travel to See a Pulmonology Expert?
If you have a rare health condition, then it is less likely that there will be an expert nearby, even if you live in a large metropolitan area. While the decision to travel to see an expert is not easy and can be an additional burden, it is important to consider traveling to see an expert to be certain you are getting the best treatment.
What to Expect at Your Pulmonologist Visit
While it is natural to feel apprehensive when going to the doctor, we hope to put you at ease by outlining what you can expect when you visit a pulmonologist. Below, we also provide you with some tips on how to get the most out of your visit by preparing a list of questions to ask your doctor.
Advice for First-timers Visiting a Pulmonologist
If this is the first time you are seeing a pulmonologist, here are some tips to help you have a successful visit:
Bring your list of concerns (or reasons for your visit) with you on a piece of paper or your phone, so you can easily recall them when speaking to your pulmonologist. (Later, in this article, we will supply you with a list of questions to ask your doctor.)
Bring a friend or loved one for support, so you can recall the information after your visit. You may be nervous, which will make it more difficult to remember what the pulmonologist said. Bring a notebook as well, so you can take notes.
Be honest and don’t hold anything back. Your pulmonologist can only help you with the information you give them. Understanding the full picture will give your doctor more to work with and help them to provide you with the best care.
Before Your Pulmonology Appointment
Prepare for your appointment by gathering the following items:
- Copies of medical records (dating back at least one year)
- List of surgeries you have had
- List of current medications, including dosages
- Allergies to medications or other allergies, such as to food, dust, or pollen
- Any alternative therapies/vitamins/herbal supplements, including dosages
- List of symptoms and details about how long they last and how often (it’s advisable to write them down beforehand as it’s easy to forget when you are at your appointment)
- Stressful work or life events that may be affecting your health
- Family history of disease
- Name and contact information of pharmacy
- List of questions (see next section)
During Your Pulmonology Appointment
What can you expect during your appointment? First, it is best to leave early for your appointment in case you have difficulty finding the doctor’s office. You should also show up at least 15 minutes prior to your appointment to fill out paperwork.
Your pulmonology visit may include a review of your medical history, a physical exam, and an evaluation of symptoms. Your pulmonologist may also send you for additional testing to confirm or rule out a diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will discuss treatment options with you or possibly refer you to another specialist or subspecialist if you need additional care. For example, if you need a surgical procedure, your pulmonologist may refer you to a thoracic surgeon.
You should tell your pulmonologist about any shortness of breath (SOB) or tiredness associated with activity, while being specific about the symptoms you are experiencing, such as how far you can walk before having difficulty breathing, when your symptoms appear, how often you cough, if you have difficulty catching your breath, whether you have wheezing or are coughing up sputum or blood, have frequent belching or headaches, and whether you are or have been a smoker.
Your pulmonologist may need more information before creating a treatment plan and may recommend follow-up visits and any of the following tests or procedures:
- Chest X-rays
- CT scan
- Blood Oxygen Saturation Tests
Your pulmonologist may prescribe medications, supplemental oxygen, and breathing exercises and work with you to help you stop smoking. The doctor may also refer you for surgery or counselling to help with any associated anxiety and depression.
This visit will also include a time to discuss your concerns with your doctor. Feel free to ask your questions. Good doctors want to ease your worries and ensure that you fully understand your diagnosis, what to expect, and the treatment options. Your time with the doctor, however, may be limited, so be certain to prepare your questions beforehand, placing the highest priority questions at the top of the list.
Below is a list of questions to consider asking your pulmonologist. The questions you ask your doctor will, of course, depend on your unique medical situation, so we have included a list of questions connected to different scenarios. Choose the questions that make the most sense for your situation.
List of Questions to Ask at your Pulmonologist Visit
- What is my diagnosis?
- What is the condition I have?
- What is my prognosis?
- Are there any risks or complications associated with my condition?
- Do I need additional testing?
- Why do you want these tests?
- Are there any risks or complications associated with these tests?
- What is involved with this test? (outpatient, duration, preparation, etc.)
- When will I find out the test results?
Treatments / medication / procedures
- What treatments are available?
- Are there any risks or complications involved with this treatment?
- Why do I need this treatment?
- What are the benefits of each treatment?
- Are there any alternatives to this treatment?
- How effective is this treatment?
- Are there any side effects of this medication?
- Does this medication interact with anything?
- Will I have to take this medication for life?
- How long will this procedure take?
- How do I need to prepare for the procedure?
- Is the procedure outpatient, or will I need to stay in the hospital?
- Who will be performing the procedure?
- Do I need to make lifestyle changes?
- Will lifestyle changes improve my condition or alleviate my symptoms?
- When should I follow-up with another visit?
- Should I get a second opinion?
After the Appointment: Getting a Second Opinion
Suppose you are happy with your pulmonologist and got your questions answered. In that case, you can schedule a follow-up appointment as well as follow the doctor’s recommendations concerning treatment, medications, or additional testing, and so on.
However, if you are unhappy with or uncertain about your diagnosis and want a different perspective on your condition or treatments, it’s okay to get a second opinion. There are many wonderful pulmonologists, but not every physician may be the right fit for you. The doctor-patient relationship is an important one, with communication being an essential factor. If you have a hard time communicating with your pulmonologist or do not feel comfortable, it might be time to look for another physician.
Since even the top pulmonologists can have different opinions, you should always try to get a second opinion from another expert before making treatment decisions. Ideally, you want to get a second opinion from an expert who can provide you with an alternative point-of-view, so you can make an informed choice that best fits your condition and its treatment.
Medical errors are rare, but they do happen because doctors are fallible like everyone else. The BMJ Quality & Safety Healthcare Journal published a study on diagnostic errors. It estimated that approximately 12 million adults in the U.S. are misdiagnosed every year, and half of these misdiagnoses could potentially be harmful. Getting a second opinion can assure you that you are making the best health decisions and receiving the quality of care you deserve.
If you want to find a pulmonologist who can give you a quality second opinion, visit MediFind’s Second Opinion Finder.
How to Find a Good Pulmonologist
Finding a pulmonologist who is the right fit can be a confusing and complicated process. However, with the right tools, you can find an expert you can feel comfortable with and get the care you want and deserve.
Typically, your primary care physician will refer you to a pulmonologist. But that doesn’t mean you need to see that specific doctor from the referral. Later, in this section, we will show you how you can easily search for top pulmonologists.
Your friends and family members may also refer you to a good pulmonologist. However, beware—though well-meaning, your loved ones might not know which pulmonologist has expertise in your specific condition. We will cover why this is important later in this section.
Beware of online doctor reviews as well. While they might help you evaluate things such as staff friendliness and office aesthetics, they do not give you the full picture of a doctor’s expertise.
The American Lung Association recommends researching a doctor’s credentials and confirming they are board-certified before booking an appointment. Search the following websites for a pulmonologist’s certifications and specialties.
These databases do not dive into specifics on a physician’s expertise, however. While they list the doctor’s board certifications, they do not provide information on their expertise in specific pulmonary conditions, their current and past research, their clinical trials, or their connectedness to other doctors in their field.
Find the Best Pulmonologist Quickly
MediFind was created to help health consumers quickly and easily find the best care and pathways to the right treatments.
MediFind is different from other doctor-finder databases because it doesn’t evaluate physicians based on online reviews, which can be biased, unreliable, and even fake. While marginally helpful for assessing the doctor’s office staff’s friendliness or typical wait times, online reviews do not give you the full picture of a doctor’s expertise. In contrast, MediFind catalogs physicians who focus on the treatment and care of one or a few conditions. These doctors are likely to offer additional perspectives and insights into your care and treatment than more generalized doctors.
MediFind evaluates physicians according to:
- Connectedness with other physicians who are experts in the treatment and pathology of a particular disease or condition
- Published papers or research about this condition
- Experience in treating patients with this condition
- Number of patients referred from other specialists who treat this condition
MediFind also offers a suite of tools and current research to help beyond just finding a great doctor:
- Find a Doctor –MediFind’s database includes over 2.5 million doctors from around the world that allows you to search by condition, specialty, or name.
- Symptom Checker – Research your symptoms and identify possible causes that you can discuss with your doctor.
- Second Opinion Finder – Find doctors who can give you a quality second opinion.
- Research medical conditions, clinical trials, and the latest advances for your condition.
- Search through current objective medical data compiled in an easy-to-digest format.
How to Search for the Best Pulmonologists: Start Here
To search for pulmonologists in your area, visit MediFind’s Best Pulmonologists Near Me page and enter your location and radius. MediFind will return a list of pulmonologists within the set radius of your preferred location.
We encourage you to take your search a step further to see what makes MediFind superior to other tools. On the right side of the Pulmonologist search page, next to the doctor profiles, you will find a list of respiratory conditions. Click on a condition to customize your search. If your respiratory condition is not listed here, simply click on the search icon above this list and type in your condition to find pulmonologist who specialize in your specific condition.
This list is important because there is a lot of value in finding a pulmonologist with expertise in your specific respiratory condition, as we explained earlier.
Performing a custom search for a particular respiratory condition returns a list of pulmonologists who are experts in that condition, ranked by MediFind’s expert tiers. Our expert tiers evaluate physicians based on the factors we listed above (connectedness, number of patients seen, referrals, and research), among other factors. Read more on how MediFind evaluates physicians. When you click on a doctor’s profile, you will also find more information about the condition along with its latest advances and clinical trials. The profile also includes the doctor’s credentials, research, and expertise in related conditions.
If you are unsure of your specific condition, use MediFind’s Symptom Checker to narrow your focus on a diagnosis so you can find the right pulmonologist. Note that the Symptom Checker is not a diagnostic tool. It merely helps you narrow down a condition to find the best specialists (who have expertise in that condition), so you can find the best pulmonologist and discuss your potential diagnosis with your doctor.
We’re On Your Side
The information MediFind offers you is not available in online reviews or other medical websites. However, it’s essential to have this information, so you can receive the highest quality of care.
When you are managing a complex or rare health condition, time is not always on your side. We created MediFind to help you find the best care as quickly as possible. We hope that we can alleviate some of the challenges associated with your journey to better health, while providing you with the means to access world-class doctors you can trust.