Although it might seem that allergists and pulmonologists practice two very different medical specialties, they actually have a lot in common. Allergists and pulmonologists are both physicians who begin their careers in internal medicine, receive similar medical training and may treat some of the same diseases. There’s a considerable variation in income, however. Allergists earned $265,592 in 2011, according to the American Medical Group Management Association, while pulmonologists earned $303,125.
Asthma, hay fever and other medical conditions related to allergies are very common. Approximately 50 million Americans have one of these conditions, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, or ACAAI. Allergists specialize in the diagnosis, treatment and management of these conditions and are specially trained to identify what triggers asthma or allergies. Allergists are sometimes also called immunologists because allergies are caused by the immune system’s response to substances such as pollen, dust or animal dander, as well as certain foods.
Pulmonologists are trained to manage conditions of the respiratory system, which includes the nose, pharynx, throat, bronchial tubes and lungs. A pulmonologist might treat a severe infection such as pneumonia or manage a chronic lung infection such as tuberculosis. Other conditions that might need a pulmonologist’s care include emphysema or pulmonary complications of AIDS. Asthma is a problem that both allergists and pulmonologists might treat, but their focus is different -- the allergist tries to determine what allergic triggers are causing the problem, while the pulmonologist treats the breathing problems that result from the disease.
Allergists and pulmonologists both receive standard medical training in internal medicine. After four years of college and another four years of medical school, both of these physicians must complete an internal medicine residency and become board-certified in internal medicine. Allergists may also train in pediatrics and become board-certified in that specialty before going on for further training. At that point, they go on for separate training in either allergies and immunology or pulmonology. This extended training period, called a fellowship, lasts an additional three to five years.
Since allergists and pulmonologists practice internal medicine, neither performs surgeries. However, each performs certain procedures to diagnose or manage the medical conditions they treat. Allergists may perform allergy testing, in which small amounts of substances known to cause allergies are injected under or applied to the skin. They develop specialized injections of these substances that are given to patients every week or two to strengthen the body so it will not react to the allergens. Pulmonologists may perform bronchoscopies, a special test that allows them to look inside the lungs of a patient to take samples of lung tissues or growths. They may also perform angiography -- an injection of dye into the arteries in the lungs -- to study the blood vessels.
- American Medical Group Management Association: 2011 Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey
- American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: When Should I See an Allergist?
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology: Allergist / Immunologists: Specialized Skills
- American College of Physicians: Pulmonology
- American Academy of Pediatrics: What is a Pediatric Pulmonologist?
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.