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An immunology specialist is a type of doctor that diagnoses and treats conditions that impact the immune system, such as allergies and auto-immune disorders. Doctors who wish to work in this field usually need additional training and certification beyond medical school or a fellowship in internal medicine or pediatrics. In some cases, an immunology specialist may work in a research laboratory or in an academic setting, investigating the causes of allergies or other immune responses, rather than treating patients.
Usually, an immunology specialist is certified in her field. The process of becoming an immunologist usually takes more than 10 years. Such a physician needs to complete a four-year undergraduate degree, then a medical degree. After earning the medical degree, she is usually expected to perform a residency in pediatric or internal medicine.
Once that initial residency is complete, she can begin a fellowship in immunology. After completing this phase of training, she needs to pass an examination to become a board-certified immunology specialist. To maintain the specialization, the doctor is expected to take continuing education courses throughout her career.
Immunology specialists diagnose allergies in patients. A physician can perform tests, such as a skin test or breathing test, to evaluate a patient's response to an allergen. Immunologists also diagnose allergic reactions on the skin, such as eczema or hives. Once a diagnosis is made, an immunology specialist develops a treatment plan to prevent the allergic reaction from occurring, or to treat it if it does occur.
Allergies are not the only condition that concern immunologists, however. They also evaluate and treat conditions of the immune system, such as auto-immune disorders. These occur when the immune cells attack healthy cells in the body. Examples of auto-immune disorders include lupus and multiple sclerosis. When a person has one of these diseases, her immune system attacks the organs and tissues of her body, leading to inflammation. To treat such auto-immune disorders, a physician may prescribe corticosteroids or drugs that suppress the immune system to alleviate the condition.
Some of these specialists treat patients with immune system deficiencies. A deficient immune system can be an inherited condition or caused by a virus. Usually, an immunologist will perform a blood test to diagnose an immunodeficiency. Treatments may include antibiotics to fight infections and therapy to improve the immune system's response.
An immunology specialist may choose to work in an academic setting instead of a clinical one. This type of doctor will conduct lab tests to develop new treatment methods or diagnostic tests. She may write papers detailing the results of her tests for publication in medical journals. In some cases, she may present her data at conferences.