If you are experiencing chronic cough, constant shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, and/or sudden, unexplained weight loss, you may have a pulmonary condition that requires treatment by a lung doctor. A lung doctor in Singapore, also called a pulmonologist, lung specialist, or chest doctor, specializes in the diagnosis and treatments of different ailments and conditions of the human respiratory system. From the windpipe to the lungs, if your problem involves a part of the respiratory system, your primary care doctor will refer you to a pulmonologist like Dr Akash Verma IP Lung Clinic to solve the problem. Read this article to learn more about how a pulmonologist can help you, the conditions they treat, and the tests and exams they use to diagnose lung diseases. This article will also discuss when you should visit a pulmonary doctor for an assessment.
How a pulmonologist can help
For short-term or mild illnesses that affect the lungs, like pneumonia, cough, colds, and flu, the care from a regular doctor would suffice. But if your cough does not respond to medication or you experience other symptoms like shortness of breath, going to a pulmonologist or a lung doctor in Singapore is the best course of action.
Pulmonology is one of the many fields under internal medicine and like all doctors, pulmonologists are required to finish four years of medical school. Residency follow and there are three years of comprehensive training in internal medicine in a hospital and another two years studying pulmonary diseases.
Pulmonologists focus on the respiratory system and its parts – nose and mouth, sinuses, voice box (larynx), throat (pharynx), windpipe (trachea), bronchial tubes, diaphragm, and lungs, including the air sacs (alveoli) and smaller passageways in the lungs (bronchioles) – and there are subspecialties that allow them to work on more specific areas or conditions. Some of these subspecialties are:
- Sleep-disordered breathing
- Neuro-muscular disorders, or conditions that may lead to respiratory failure
- Obstructive lung disease, or conditions that cause the obstruction or narrowing of the airways
- Lung transplantation
- Interstitial lung disease, or conditions that affect the tissue and space within the lungs
- Interventional pulmonology
Accurate diagnosis is important for pulmonologists for they perform procedures such as chest x-rays. CT scans, blood tests, spirometry or breathing test, bronchoscopies (using a tiny camera to look at air passages), and sleep studies to diagnose lung conditions. Once a condition or disease has been diagnosed, the next step of the process is the creation of a treatment plan. A lung doctor in Singapore may use medications, therapy, surgery, and/or pulmonary rehabilitation to treat a patient.
Lung diseases often require long-term care – that is the honest truth. But there is nothing to worry about because lung doctors have the skills and knowledge to adapt treatment plans accordingly. They can also coordinate with key healthcare providers like asthma educators, respiratory therapists, and pulmonary rehab programs who can help manage a patient’s condition.
Conditions that a pulmonologist treat
Infections, tissue overgrowth, and inflammation are some of the factors that harm the lungs. Most of lung illnesses require long-term (sometimes life-long) treatment plans. Below are the lung problems and conditions that a pulmonologist treat:
- Tuberculosis, an infection caused by bacteria
- Acute and chronic bronchitis, an inflammation that comes with a cough and excessive mucus in the airways. If left untreated, this can lead to more serious infection.
- Asthma, a chronic condition that narrows and inflames the airways, causing difficulty in breathing,
- Cystic fibrosis, a disease that causes thick mucus to build up in the lungs. This is typically caused by a genetic change.
- Emphysema, or damaged air sacs. This is common in long-time smokers.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a combination of lung problems that include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
- Lung cancer, a type of cancer that affects the lungs.
- Pulmonary hypertension, which occurs when there is high blood pressure in the lungs’ arteries.
- Pneumonia, an infection that causes inflammation in the air sacs or alveoli in the lungs filling it with pus.
- COVID-19 pneumonia, a more severe type of the regular pneumonia, which can cause severe problems with breathing and failure of the respiratory system to function properly.
- Occupational lung disease, a condition that occurs when chemicals, dusts, or proteins are inhaled regularly.
- Obstructive sleep apnea, or when a person’s breathing slows down or stops while they are asleep.
Diagnosing lung diseases
A pulmonologist may use one or more test to get an accurate diagnosis. An ultrasound is used to examine organs and other inner structures of the chest while a CT scan gives a detailed image of the bones, muscles, and blood vessels. A pulmonary function test may be carried out to determine how well a patient’s lungs are functioning. A pulse oximetry test, on the other hand, is used to identify the saturation level of oxygen in the blood. A biopsy, or the removal of tissue sample for further testing, may also be performed, as well as a bronchoscopy. The latter is a method of examining the airway to rule out issues in the throat, voice box, or windpipe. Lastly, there is a test called sleep study for patients with sleep disorders, like sleep apnea.
When you should visit a pulmonologist
A simple cough due to allergies or a cold is not something that you should lose sleep about, but if it persists for more than 21 days, or worsens over that time period, you should talk to your primary care doctor about a referral to a pulmonologist. A cough may be caused by bacterial, fungal, or viral infection, or it may be a symptom of a more serious disease such as lung cancer, so make sure that you seek professional help if it does not get better.
If you are a long-time smoker, you should schedule regular visits to a pulmonary doctor. Smoking kills the alveoli in the lungs, and this may eventually lead to chronic bronchitis, emphysema, COPD, or lung cancer.
People with asthma should also get regular check-ups with a pulmonologist to keep the condition under control. Or if you do not have asthma but you find yourself getting out of breath more easily than before, you should definitely see a pulmonary doctor to check for lung issues. The doctor will assess your personal health history and symptoms so that proper medication, therapy, or exercises may be recommended. An ultrasound or CT scan may also be required to detect any issues in your lungs.