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Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Updated May 16, 2014

What is an allergist/immunologist?

An allergist/immunologist is a medical doctor with specialty training in the diagnosis and treatment of allergic diseases, asthma and diseases of the immune system. To become an allergist, a person must attend college (4 years) and medical school (4 years), and undergo residency training in either internal medicine or pediatrics (3 years each). The physician then must pass a difficult exam to become board-certified in either of these fields.

Once board-certified, the internist or pediatrician may decide to obtain additional specialty training in allergy and immunology, called a fellowship (2 years). An allergist/immunologist who is board-certified has also passed an additional examination showing competence in the fields of allergy and immunology.

What types of patients do allergists/immunologists see?

An allergist/immunologist specializes in the treatment of allergic and immunologic diseases. This includes the diagnosis and treatment of allergic rhinitis, asthma, allergic eye diseases, atopic dermatitis (eczema), urticaria (hives), chronic cough, chronic sinus infections, frequent colds/bronchitis and immune problems. Allergists also see patients with food allergy, medication allergy, bee sting (venom) allergy and latex allergy.

Usually a primary care physician refers a patient to see an allergist, although some patients will be sent to an allergist from another specialist, such as a dermatologist, an otolaryngologist (ear-nose-throat), a pulmonologist or a rheumatologist.

Why should I see an allergist/immunologist?

An allergist/immunologist can provide expert medical advice and treatment in the evaluation and management of people with allergic diseases, asthma and immune problems (see above for types of patients seen). This includes the ability to perform and interpret allergy testing, expertise in treating complex allergic diseases and asthma, as well as the ability to prescribe allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots).

Recent studies prove that asthma patients who are under the care of an allergist are less likely to visit an emergency room or be hospitalized as a result of their asthma.

When should I see an allergist/immunologist?

The following is a list of reasons which may warrant an evaluation by an allergist:
    1. Asthma that causes frequent symptoms, affects school/work/sleep/exercise, or leads to frequent doctor or emergency room visits.
    2. Any asthma attack that has led to being hospitalized.
    3. Frequent allergic rhinitis symptoms that affect a person’s lifestyle or lead to recurrent sinus infections.
    4. Medications (over-the-counter or prescribed) are not helpful in treating allergic rhinitis or asthma, or cause unwanted side effects.
    5. Frequent or recurrent skin rashes, especially those that itch or may be related to allergies.
    6. Any food allergy, mild or severe.
    7. Any severe reaction to a bee sting, ant bite or sting, or mosquito bite.
    8. Hives (urticaria) or swelling (angioedema).
    9. Adults or children with moderate to severe atopic dermatitis.
    10. The desire to reduce the need for medications and improve and possibly cure allergic rhinitis and asthma through treatment with allergy shots.

Learn more:

  • Allergy Testing
  • What Questions to Ask Your Allergist
  • What Questions Your Allergist Will Ask You

    Sources: American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

    DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Allergies
  4. Allergy Basics
  5. When You Should See Allergists and Immunologists

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