What is an Allergist/Immunologist and how are they different?

Author: Miriam K. Anand, M.D., FACAAI, FAAAAI


An Allergist/Immunologist is someone who specializes in diagnosing and treating allergic diseases and diseases related to the immune system. Some of these include:

  • Nasal allergies, such as hay fever, seasonal allergies, allergies to animal dander, and similar conditions
  • Eye allergies
  • Asthma
  • Sinus infections
  • Allergies to foods, insect stings, and medications
  • Skin conditions, such as hives, eczema, and contact allergies.
  • Deficiencies in the immune system, which can lead to frequent infections.

An Allergist/Immunologist first completes four years of medical school. S/he then completes a 3 year residency in Internal Medicine or Pediatrics. (Some may do a 4 year residency in both Internal Medicine and Pediatrics.) Internal Medicine focuses on adults, while pediatrics focuses on children. The residents are trained to diagnose and treat conditions involved with different organ systems of the body, including the heart, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, etc. The focus is on nonsurgical treatment of these conditions.

Once the residency is completed, the physician then completes a 2-3 year Fellowship specifically in Allergy/Immunology. During this time, the focus is specifically on diagnosing and treating the diseases listed above in both adults and children. Once the Fellowship is completed, the physician is considered to be Board Eligible in the specialty of Allergy/Immunology. This means that the physician is eligible to register for and to take the board exam in Allergy/Immunology. Once the physician has taken the exam and passed (which most do within a year of completing the Fellowship), s/he is considered Board Certified in that field.

To find out more about certification by the American Board of Allery and Immunology, please visit http://www.abai.org. You can find out if your physician is Board Certified by going to the American Board of Medical Specialties website: http://www.abms.org

Allergists/Immunologists often refer to themselves as “Allergists”. There is some confusion, however, when using this term. The confusion stems from the fact that others without the same training also refer to themselves as “Allergists”. Some of these people may have little or no formal training in treating allergic diseases and are neither Board Certified nor Board Eligible for treating these diseases. Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialists have a separate Allergy board exam. ENTs complete a 4-5 year residency, which consists of at least one year of training in general surgery and the remaining years in head and neck surgery.

After completion of this residency, some may opt to do a 1 year ENT/Allergy fellowship program or of attending two courses in ENT/Allergy, each lasting 2 to 4 days. They also need to provide proof that they have treated 10 patients with allergen immunotherapy, and that they have completed a total of 40 hours of educational courses in ENT related topics. They are then eligible to take the ENT/Allergy board exam. While ENTs are very well equipped to treat sinus disease and nasal allergies, they do not get the same training in treating lung diseases, such as asthma, skin diseases, or other immune related disorders that Allergists/Immunologists get. Many ENTs and Allergist/Immunologists work together to provide care to patients.

Patients should always ask about a particular physician’s training and expertise before undergoing any medical treatment, regardless of the specialty.

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