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Allergy and immunology is a medical specialty focused on the immune system -- a complex system of organs, tissues and blood components that normally work together to protect the body from a variety of external threats such as infections and foreign or hazardous substances. However, parts of the system may be absent or defective (immunodeficiency), leading to a failure to defend the body. Conversely, the system may be intact but overreact or act inappropriately, causing an immune reaction that harms normal healthy tissue.
Physicians who diagnose and treat these various immune system issues are referred to as allergist/immunologists or simply allergists. Allergist/immunologists initially train in internal medicine, pediatrics, or both, then complete training specifically in allergy and immunology.
Here's how the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology describes what allergist/immunologists do:
An allergist/immunologist is a physician specially trained to diagnose, treat, and manage allergies, asthma, and immunologic disorders including primary immunodeficiency disorders. These conditions range from the very common to the very rare, spanning all ages and encompassing various organ systems.
Allergies and asthma are the most common conditions an allergist/immunologist will manage. Both involve what is called a type I (immediate) hypersensitivity reaction. Allergies can be caused by hypersensitivity to many external substances, including pollen, mold, pet dander, plants, drugs, foods, latex, metals and insect stings. The symptoms can vary from mild to severe, depending on whether the reaction occurs in just one part of the body (e.g., nose, eyes, skin, stomach) or throughout the whole body. Whole-body allergic reactions are referred to as anaphylaxis, and when they compromise the airway and breathing are potentially life-threatening emergencies.
Allergist/immunologists also diagnose and treat chronic conditions such as eczema and sinusitis when allergy-related. An allergist/immunologist also may be involved in the management of congenital or acquired deficiencies of the immune system, autoimmune disease, immune problems related to organ transplantation, and cancers of the immune system.
For more information about allergists/immunologists on the Medical Staff at Chester County Hospital, call our Physician Referral Service at 800-789-PENN (7366) or visit theFind a Doctor section of our website.
Last Updated: 2/10/2014