Allergy and immunology is the subspecialty of internal medicine concerned with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of problems with the human immune system.
Allergists and immunologists must first complete seven or more years of medical school and postgraduate training and become board certified in Internal Medicine. Then, for an additional two years they study conditions specific to the human immune system.
They focus on treatment or research involving:
- Respiratory tract diseases (allergic rhinitis, sinusitis, asthma)
- Skin disorders (eczema, contact dermatitis, hives)
- Gastrointestinal disorders from immune responses to foods
- Adverse reactions to drugs and diagnostic testing materials
- Diseases associated with autoimmune responses, including arthritis
- Symptoms of disorders caused by immunodeficiency
- Stem cell, bone marrow and organ transplantation
When do you need an allergist or an immunologist?
Not everyone who suffers from allergies needs a specialist. Many allergic problems are diagnosed and handled well by general internists (or pediatricians). The skills of allergists and immunologists are called on when special knowledge in diagnosis and treatment is needed.
How allergists and immunologists work with other physicians
In most cases, you will still need an internist for non-allergy related medical care, although some allergists and immunologists maintain a general internal medicine (or pediatric) practice as well as their subspecialty.
If you have been referred by your primary care physician to an allergist/immunologist, in most cases you will go back to the primary care physician for follow-up care. If you require continuing care for allergy-related conditions, your primary care physician and your allergist/immunologist, working together, will recommend which physician you should see.