ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- A pulmonologist is a doctor that specializes in the respiratory system. These physicians can help with a wide range of conditions, from COPD, to asthma, to long COVID, to even a chronic cough.

"I have had several patients that have come in with cough and are a bit sheepish about coming to see a doctor just because of a cough but coughs can be very nagging and can very much impair the quality of life," said Dr. John Watson at Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital.

He says while many respiratory conditions can be managed by a primary care physician initially, if a patient is not responding well to initial treatment, or if a patient has been coughing for three months or more, it may be time to see a pulmonologist.

"There are some kind of initial things patients can do with their PCP but if that isn't sufficient, and they aren't getting adequate control of their symptoms, then referring to the pulmonologist at that time is a good idea," Watson said.

Pulmonologists work to give patients greater control over their conditions and their symptoms.

"A lot of what we do is specific medicines to manage symptoms. A lot of times with some respiratory diseases, it's difficult to find true cures, and so we work together as a team with the patient to make sure we are treating symptoms as best we can," Watson said.

But one procedure a pulmonologist may perform is a bronchoscopy, where a doctor looks at your lungs and air passages using a tube, with a small camera at the end.

"Bronchoscopy would be used for diagnostic purposes, more than treatment purposes. Patients with chronic cough, we would be looking for airway abnormalities that may be triggering the cough, and then if we're doing a navigational or EBUS procedure, we're going to be looking to get a biopsy of whatever abnormality we see on the imaging or CAT scan of the chest," he said.

For more information on pulmonology at Sentara Martha Jefferson, click here.