An allergist or allergist/immunologist is a physician with special advanced training in the field of medicine, particularly in the fields of the body’s immune response. When people get allergies, their body experiences an immune response, meaning their body kicks into high gear, creating reactive systems in response to what they perceive as foreign matter. Such foreign matter could include things like pollen, peanuts, dust mites, or it could even be regular parts or systems of the body, which the body mistakenly thinks are foreign. Because allergists may also act as immunologists they may treat people with autoimmune diseases: those illnesses which initiate immune response to the body’s systems like HIV, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and rheumatoid arthritis, to name just a few.
Training to become an allergist is extensive. After completing medical school, an allergist can follow two paths of specialization. They can either receive three years training in internal medicine or pediatrics. Before entering additional fellowship training to be an allergist, board certification in one of these fields is required. Once these doctors have received board certification, they complete an additional two years of training, usually called a fellowship, specifically in allergy/immunology studies. Lastly, they must past examinations and become board certified, at least in the US, by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology (ABAI).
When the allergist has received board certification, there are many different career paths this doctor can take. Some work in hospitals and specialize in immunology. Others work in allergy clinics, and may most particularly work with children who have extensive allergy problems. In such a clinic, the goal is to help control allergies through avoidance of allergens, allergy shots, or prescription of medications that help reduce allergic response.
Allergists also may perform tests to identify the substances that cause immune or allergic response so they can help patients understand what substances are most likely to be problematic. They may help educate patients on how to create homes that are friendlier to the person with significant in-home allergies, like those to dust mites, and mold. For those with allergies from pollens, an allergist would help educate a patient on avoiding outdoor exposure when pollen counts are highest, and make recommendations about when to use allergy or asthma medications if they participate in a lot of outdoor activities.
An allergist can also participate in laboratory studies, help to develop new drugs to address immune response, and some prefer the title immunologist, since they are most interested in combating the many serious autoimmune diseases through clinical practice, laboratory or pharmaceutical study. Typically allergists who are board certified pediatricians tend to work with adults and children in the treatment of allergies and asthma. Board certified internists/allergists may also take up this work, but may be more interested in the treatment of autoimmune conditions.
If you have significant allergies, especially those that can be life-threatening, being under the care of an allergist has been shown to reduce days of illness, time off of work and trips to the emergency room. People with autoimmune illnesses also may regularly see an allergist/immunologist for regular treatment of these illnesses.