Allergist & Immunologist: Your Asthma, Immune System & Allergy Specialist
What is an allergist?
An allergist-immunologist specializes in caring for people with allergies, asthma, and other diseases of the immune system. Allergists-immunologists with a background in internal medicine take care of adults and those with a background in pediatrics take care of children. Known commonly as allergists, these specialists are highly skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of immune system disorders and in helping people take an active role in preventing and treating allergy symptoms.
An allergist typically:
Evaluates a patient’s medical history and educates patients about allergies and other immune system diseases and symptom prevention
Performs a physical exam including evaluation of allergy symptoms, breathing, blood pressure, and other vital signs
Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications
Diagnoses and treats allergies, asthma, and other diseases of the immune system
Provides primary care in some cases, such as routine physicals and screening tests
Works closely with other medical specialists and healthcare providers to provide optimal care
Who should see an allergist?
Your primary doctor can often monitor and treat mild allergies, such as seasonal hay fever. Your doctor will likely refer you to an allergy specialist for allergies or immune system diseases that are ongoing or more difficult to control or diagnose, such as allergy-induced asthma. Seeing an allergist for early treatment and preventive care is the best way to ensure optimal treatment, live comfortably with fewer symptoms, and reduce the risk of life-threatening allergy complications, such as anaphylaxis.
When should you see an allergist?
Allergy specialists take care of people with the following symptoms or conditions:
Abdominal pain or cramps
Coughing not due to cold or flu
Hives, which are raised areas or welts on the skin
Rash or itchy skin
Consider seeing an allergist if:
You have asthma or an immune system disease such as an immunodeficiency disorder. Some allergists further specialize in asthma treatment or severe immune-related conditions.
You have minor or occasional allergy symptoms that seem to be getting worse or you want treatment and strategies that are more effective than your current treatment at preventing symptoms.
You have swollen lymph glands or an enlarged spleen that your doctor thinks might be caused by an immune system disease.
You have unexplained symptoms that may be allergy-related such as skin rashes.
To set up an appointment with an experienced doctor, find allergists near you. Good patient reviews and background information can help you narrow your choices.
What does an allergist treat?
Allergy and immunology doctors treat conditions and diseases that affect your immune system, including:
Allergies to insect stings including bees, wasps and hornets
Allergy-related conditions including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection, all of which are linked to or worsened by allergies
Anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening type of allergic reaction that affects the entire body
Asthma, which is commonly triggered by allergies
Drug allergies including allergies to penicillin and other antibiotics
Food allergies including allergies to eggs, milk, nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish
Hives, which are raised, itchy red areas or welts on the skin
Latex allergy, which is an allergic reaction to allergens in latex such as latex gloves
Primary immunodeficiency disorders, which are inherited immune system disorders that make the body less able to fight infections and more susceptible to serious complications
Sinusitis, which is an inflammation of one or more of the sinuses
What does an allergist test?
An allergist can order, analyze or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests for allergies, immune system problems, and general health issues including:
Blood tests including RAST and IgE antibody testing to help identify allergies and the substances that cause them
Elimination test to help diagnose a suspected food allergy
Evaluation of an allergy symptoms log in which you document your symptoms, what seems to trigger them, when they occur, how severe they are, and how long they last
General health tests including complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis, chest X-ray, blood glucose (sugar) test, liver and kidney function tests, cholesterol panel, thyroid hormone tests, and blood pressure screening
Provocation tests to help identify various allergens by eating or inhaling small but increasing amounts of different substances and watching for a reaction
Skin testing to help identify various allergens by inserting a small amount of possible allergens under the skin and watching for a reaction
Tests for breathing and asthma including lung function tests and bronchoprovocation tests
What procedures and treatments does an allergist perform?
Allergists order or perform various procedures and treatments for allergies, asthma, and other immune system diseases. Procedures and treatments performed by allergists-immunologists can include:
Asthma treatments including leukotriene modifiers, corticosteroids, bronchodilators, and breathing treatments
Management of primary immunodeficiency diseases including DiGeorge syndrome and severe combined immunodeficiency
Medications including antihistamines, decongestants, cortisone injections and other corticosteroid drugs, and allergy shots and drops (immunotherapy)
Personalized action plan to avoid allergens including strategies to reduce allergens in the home and avoid exposure in your other surroundings
Allergist-immunologist training and certification
Education, training, experience, and board certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. To increase the likelihood of receiving advanced care, choose a board-certified allergist-immunologist. This validates the doctor’s up-to-date knowledge and skill in the field.
The American Board of Internal Medicine, American Board of Pediatrics, and the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine certify doctors in allergy and immunology after they complete additional training and pass a certification exam.
To maintain board certification in allergy and immunology, a doctor must participate in an ongoing certification program.
There are no subspecialties of allergy and immunology. However, some doctors seek dual certification in allergy and immunology and adult rheumatology. These doctors may be a good choice if you have an immune disorder causing joint pain or deterioration.
Other board-certified specialists, such as dermatologists and pulmonologists, also treat people with allergy-related and immune system conditions. Talk with your primary care doctor about the best type of specialist or subspecialist for you and for a referral to a well-respected doctor.