When to See a Specialist


Your primary care physician is the perfect person to diagnose common ailments and conditions. These include colds and respiratory infections. Primary care doctors can also prescribe antibiotics and run basic tests and exams. But when is seeing your primary care physician not enough? What types of conditions or ailments require a specialist?

Here we’ll discuss some of the most common conditions and symptoms that may require a specialist versus a general practitioner.

What Makes a Specialist Different?

A specialist is a doctor with education and knowledge about treating a specific area of the body or ailment. There are countless specialists in all areas of the medical field. Generally, you’ll see your primary care doctor first, who will then refer you to a specialist if your condition is outside their realm of expertise. They will also refer you if you need more advanced tests or treatments that they’re not equipped to perform. Your primary care doctor will exchange information with the doctor they refer you too. Depending on the type of insurance you have, the specialist may require a written referral from your primary doctor before the visit. Check with your insurance provider before making any further appointments.

Most Common Types of Specialists



This type of specialist focuses not only diagnosing and identifying allergies but also in treating a long list of immune system disorders. These include asthma, eczema, and of course, allergies associated with foods, drugs, and other outside sources. If you’re unsure of what types of allergies you have, an allergist will run tests in the office to determine what your triggers are. From here, treatment and medication options are discussed. Allergist-immunologists also help with matching organ transplant recipients and donors.


The heart is one of the body’s major organs and takes a lot of attention and care. Cardiologists specialize in all conditions related to the cardiovascular system in the body. If you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, your doctor may refer you to a cardiologist.

  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • High blood pressure and/or cholesterol

You may also see a cardiologist if you have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, or other conditions. It is advisable to the cardiologist about any unusual heart attack triggers that you should be aware of. Believe it or not but gum disease may actually be a sign of onset heart disease in which case your dentist may be the one to refer you to a cardiologist for further examination.



If you’re suffering from any type of orthopedic injury or condition, you’ll need to consult with an orthopedic surgeon. These types of doctors specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of injuries, diseases, and disorders related to the musculoskeletal system. Orthopedic surgeons also work with patients to establish prevention and rehabilitation plans. Orthopedic surgeons focus on issues surrounding the muscles, nerves, tendons, bones, and joints of the body.

Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT)

If you’re suffering from any type of infection or disease of the ear, nose or throat, you may be referred to an ENT, or otolaryngologist. The ENT will treat chronic ear infections, tonsillitis, head and neck issues. Many people don’t realize, but ENTs are also trained in facial and reconstructive surgery.



Though ENTs do address some neurological disorders, a neurologist specializes in all things related to the brain, spinal cord, and autonomic nervous system. Your primary care physician may refer you to a neurologist if you suffer from chronic, unexplained headaches, experience a stroke or seizure. Neurologists also treat patients who have Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Neurologists can perform tests including a CT scan, MRA (magnetic resonance angiography), or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). These tests help neurologists to detect and monitor conditions such as MS (multiple sclerosis) and other brain injuries or diseases.


A pulmonologist specializes in diseases of the lungs and airways and is a branch of internal medicine. If you are suffering from a severe case of pneumonia or asthma your doctor may refer you to a pulmonologist for further treatment options. These may include daily use of an inhaler or nebulizer. Nebulizers offer medicated treatment through inhalation, which helps to reduce swelling and inflammation in the lungs and airways. Pulmonologists also specialize in sleep disorders and environmental diseases.


PsychiatristNot all referrals are for physical treatment options. If you’re suffering from depression, irritability, mood swings, or other emotional disturbances, your doctor may recommend you see a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists can diagnose and treat not only mental disorders but behavioral, emotion, and addictive as well. Most often, a psychiatrist will use a combination of medication and therapy to help treat these conditions.  Psychiatrists treat the whole patient, meaning they consider many factors in their treatment plan including social, biological, and psychological. Psychiatrists usually work in close partnership with psychologists to create an effective plan for the patient. A therapist is different than both psychiatrists and psychologists due to the fact that they are not considered medical doctors and therefore cannot prescribe medication.

Let Your Primary Doctor Guide the Way

It’s always best to confer with your primary care physician before seeing a specialist. Your primary doctor is familiar with your medical history and background. This makes it easier for them to determine the next course of action. Once you’re referred to a specialist, an individual and specific diagnosis and treatment plan can be implemented.

Article Submitted By Community Writer

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