Meet the Pulmonologist: Severe Asthma
Dr. Praveen Akuthota is a board-certified pulmonologist with UC San Diego Health.
In our "Meet the Specialist" series, we highlight the unique perspectives of various medical specialists on the types of patients they see and what they find rewarding and challenging in their daily practice.
When people ask me what a pulmonologist is, the simplest answer is that I’m a lung doctor. I treat patients who have conditions affecting their lungs, like COPD, emphysema, interstitial lung diseases, and even chronic cough. Asthma, whether it’s mild, moderate, or severe, is a big part of what I treat. With asthma, the airways leading into the lungs become constricted, so air flow is reduced and you can’t breathe as easily. Along with that, inflammation in the lungs further impairs the flow of air. Most people have manageable asthma with the right treatments, but some of my patients have severe asthma, which is asthma that can’t be controlled using typical medications. Regardless of your condition, as a pulmonologist, I’ll work with you to stay on top of your lung health and keep you breathing easy.
Some people know from the first day of medical school if they want to train in a particular subspecialty. That wasn’t me. I went into my internal medicine residency knowing that I’d probably develop an interest in something more specific, but I didn’t know what that was. As I went through residency, I got more of a sense of what subspecialties appealed to me and I was exposed to different role models. In my pulmonology rotation, I really admired my supervising physicians; plus, I became fascinated with how the lungs worked and the many ways pulmonologists are needed. Today, after practicing as a pulmonologist for nine years, I’m happy I made the choice I did. I’m able to see patients almost every day and teach medical students about treating lung disease. I also have a science lab where I research eosinophils, the white blood cells involved in allergic reactions that can make severe asthma and other lung conditions worse. And I’m involved in research with the National Institutes of Health focusing on severe asthma and other problems.
A Changing Field
In the 15 years since I started medical school, the field of pulmonology has evolved a lot. For example, in asthma, we’ve entered a new era of biologic therapies that target specific parts of the immune system to effectively treat the condition. From 2001 to 2015, there weren’t many new medications getting approved to treat asthma, but all of the sudden, many new options are coming out and that’s changed a lot of how we manage it. We’ve also started to recognize that asthma is different for different people—there are different flavors of asthma, whether it’s allergic asthma, exercise-induced asthma, eosinophilic asthma, or others. Our knowledge of eosinophils has also changed how we treat COPD and contributed to more effective treatment options being developed.
Finding the Right Pulmonologist
Connecting with the right pulmonologist can be hard to navigate, but it’s so important. Even as a physician, it can be tough to know what to look for in my own doctors. But I think following your instincts when you first meet a physician can go a long way. You want someone who listens to you, who shows empathy and interest in your life and your situation. Not all physicians have the luxury of time, but you want to find someone who makes you feel like they have time for you, who gives your questions and frustrations proper thought and commitment. Diagnosing asthma isn’t usually difficult, but it can be challenging to diagnose severe asthma, which is why finding a pulmonologist who really listens to you is so important.
THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This content is provided for informational purposes and reflects the opinions of the author. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.