Got Skin Problems? How You Can Tell When a Specialist Is Best
Is your dermatologist office too busy? Get some tips for getting in sooner and find out when it’s OK to see you primary care doctor instead.
Is it a spider bite? Poison ivy? Or are you developing that skin condition your aunt has? Only a doctor can tell you. But, if you can’t get in to see a dermatologist quickly, will your primary care physician do?
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Dermatologist Anthony Fernandez, MD, PhD, says your primary care doctor can likely handle most simple things. However, if you suspect a more serious problem, find a good dermatologist.
“You should definitely see your primary care provider first for simple, common skin problems. That’s the best place to start,” he says. “Anything with a systemic component should be seen by a dermatologist to get an answer quickly.”
Primary care doctors can treat mild acne, rosacea, warts, minor rashes, bug bites, simple cysts, athlete’s foot, dandruff and mild, benign lesions.
If their treatments don’t clear up the problem, though, it makes sense to consult a specialist.
If a rash or other skin problem covers more than 10 percent of your body, consult a dermatologist immediately, especially if you have fever, joint aches, muscle pain, difficulty swallowing or an inability to sleep, Dr. Fernandez says.
Also, visit a dermatologist for any ulcers that won’t heal after a week or two. These open sores can lead to serious infections.
Diagnosing skin inflammation can also reveal inflammation in your organs, including the lungs, kidneys or liver.
Dermatologists can offer:
“As advanced as cosmetic procedures are, there’s no way to reverse scarring,” Dr. Fernandez says. “So, the longer the problem goes on, the more extensive permanent damage can become.”
Ultimately, he says, seek medical advice when you first notice a problem. When the skin condition is one symptom of a larger, more serious problem, doing so will limit possible permanent skin or organ damage.
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If you have an urgent issue, getting a dermatology appointment can sometimes be tough. Currently, there aren’t enough specialists to meet patient needs, and many focus on surgical or cosmetic rather than medical dermatology.
If you do have an urgent need for a dermatologist, Dr. Fernandez suggests this approach:
Some offices, particularly those in academic medical centers, offer same-day appointments for patients with urgent problems, he says. Otherwise, for serious problems, you can expect to get in within two weeks. As a last resort, you can seek assistance in the emergency department.