The first steps in evaluating respiratory problems involve a review of your medical history and a physical examination. These will help your doctor, who may be a pulmonologist (a lung specialist), to determine which laboratory tests and chest-imaging techniques are required.
Your doctor will ask a number of questions about current symptoms, past behaviors, occupation, toxic exposures (for example, to cigarette smoke, silica [fine dust from quartz] or asbestos), and family medical history. The doctor will also take into account the presence of infections, such as the flu, in the family or community.
You will need to give information about any respiratory illnesses that you or your family members may have. You will also discuss any allergies and any medications you take. Some medications, such as diet pills and amiodarone (Cordarone, used to treat an irregular heart rhythm), can contribute to lung disease.
In some people, problems that seem unrelated to the lungs—for instance, skin rash, joint pain, and visual changes—are symptoms of a more generalized inflammatory disease that has respiratory difficulty as one of its symptoms. In addition, a disease such as lung cancer can cause symptoms elsewhere in the body if it spreads.