Respiratory Disease

Respiratory Disease

Understanding Respiratory Disease

Respiratory disease is a broad term that includes a number of respiratory illnesses, like asthma, COPD, and lung cancer. 


Respiratory disease is a broad term that includes a number of respiratory illnesses, like asthma, COPD, and lung cancer. Read on to learn more and how you can prevent, manage, and treat these illnesses.

What is a pulmonologist?

Your child often wheezes and seems short of breath. Your partner snores loudly and frequently gasps for air during sleep. After you've smoked for years, your doctor says she suspects you have COPD.

What do each of these situations have in common?

They're all scenarios that could send a person to a pulmonologist.

Breathing specialists

A pulmonologist is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the lungs and respiratory system.

Every cell in your body needs oxygen to function. Your respiratory system, together with your circulatory system, delivers that oxygen from your lungs. It also moves carbon dioxide—a waste product created during respiration—from your cells back to your lungs, where it's exhaled during normal breathing.

Diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect breathing and the lungs may involve evaluation of various parts of the respiratory tract, including the sinuses, nose, pharynx (throat) and trachea (windpipe). Sometimes, it also involves evaluating other parts of the body, such as the heart.

Specific symptoms and illnesses a pulmonologist may address include:

  • Asthma.
  • Breathing difficulty.
  • Chronic cough.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Cystic fibrosis.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Pulmonary hypertension.
  • Sleep apnea.
  • Tuberculosis.

Pulmonologists may also manage ventilators for patients who require breathing assistance.

Educational background

Pulmonology is a subspecialty of internal medicine. As a result, pulmonologists generally attend medical school for four years and then receive three years of additional training before becoming board-certified as internists. Following that, they study diseases specific to the lungs for an additional two to three years.

Some pulmonologists may specialize in pediatrics rather than internal medicine.