Pulmonology is a branch of medicine which is concerned with the function of the respiratory system, including the lungs and bronchial tubes. It is usually considered a specialty within the larger field of internal medicine, although pulmonology also intersects with intensive care, emergency care, and cardiothoracic surgery. Specialists in this field are known as pulmonologists, and they may work in hospital settings, clinics, and outpatient practices.
A number of conditions can be assessed and treated by a pulmonologist, including hereditary conditions which affect the lungs, lung trauma, chronic conditions, acquired diseases, infections, and cancers. Specialists in this field are usually focused on keeping the airway open so that patients can breathe freely. Keeping the airway open also makes the patient more comfortable, giving the doctor time to develop a treatment plan to manage or treat the condition which has caused impaired lung function.
Specialists in pulmonology are usually consulted when it becomes evident that a patient has a lung problem. While other doctors can treat lung conditions, pulmonary specialists have years of experience working with the lungs, and they are usually informed about the latest and most effective treatments. Some doctors choose to specialize in the management of a particular pulmonary condition, like cystic fibrosis or asthma, developing treatment plans which are tailored to their patients. Others work more generally in pulmonology to provide a variety of treatments which can range from administrations of medication to management of a mechanical ventilator.
Pulmonologists can use a variety of techniques to diagnose and treat their patients. Pulmonary function tests can be used to assess basic lung function, while more invasive medical tests can be used to look into the lungs and bronchial tubes, to take samples of specific areas of interest, and to measure response to treatment. Medical imaging studies are often utilized to get a picture of the area, and the specialist may work with a surgeon or acute care physician to coordinate a treatment plan for the patient.
Patients can also seek out a pulmonary specialist to address specific concerns or to provide a second opinion. Many pulmonary conditions have a diversity of treatment approaches, and patients may find that some approaches are more effective than others for their specific needs. Seeking a second opinion can often provide more treatment options and more perspective on the condition. When consulting a pulmonology specialist for additional information about a condition, it is a good idea to bring along all medical records, including test results.