The Wide Array of Pediatrics in Austin
When most people think about pediatrics in Austin, they think about their primary care pediatrician; however, there are actually many types of pediatric specialties.
Pediatrics covers the physical, emotional, and social health of newborns through young adults. Beyond general pediatricians, there are at least 20 pediatric subspecialties. You can think of these as being similar to the many subspecialties for adults. The primary difference, of course, is the age of the patient.
You are unlikely to find all of the possible pediatric specialties in smaller towns. In fact, even larger cities often have a lack of certain pediatric subspecialties. Your child’s primary care provider is the best source to find a specialist in your city or can often help you locate one in another city or state, if necessary. You may also be able to work with your health insurance provider who may have information on the closest pediatric specialists.
Austin is a fast-growing city. In the past, many parents had to take their child to Dallas, Houston, or San Antonio to see certain pediatric specialists. Today, however, pediatrics in Austin is evolving. Increasingly more specialists are calling Austin home, fueled in part by the addition of Dell Children’s Medical Center.
We wanted to provide a list of the most common pediatric specialties to give you a better idea of the breadth of care in pediatrics. Our hope is that you never need to access many of these specialists, but it is good to be aware of the different types.
Guide to The Types of Pediatric Specialties
Let’s start out with the most obvious, the pediatrician. Pediatrics in Austin has no shortage of excellent pediatricians. Your child’s pediatrician is there for when your child is sick with a common illness but also for monitoring your child’s overall health through annual physical exams (also known as “well-checks” or “well-child”). You can take your child into the pediatrician’s office, or you can have a concierge pediatrician come to your home to care for your child. In either case, the provider will be able to conduct a thorough assessment, administer vaccines, order lab work and imaging, and evaluate their development.
Allergy and Immunology
Your pediatrician can often help if your child develops environmental or food allergies, but they may refer you to a pediatric allergist and immunologist if your child has more complex allergies. Allergists and immunologists are good options to diagnose and treat asthma, skin and eye allergies, autoimmune disorders and other immune system dysfunctions, and even perform stem cell or bone marrow transplants.
A pediatric cardiologist cares for patients with congenital or acquired cardiac and cardiovascular abnormalities. If your baby is born with any heart issues, the hospital will bring in a pediatric cardiologist to test, diagnose and treat your child. Similarly, if your child develops a heart issue during their childhood or adolescence, your pediatrician will likely refer you to a pediatric cardiologist who has specialized knowledge of heart issues relating specifically to children.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) recommends that your child see a pediatric dentist when their first tooth appears, or no later than his or her first birthday. While a family dentist can care for a child, a pediatric dentist has up to three years of specialty training beyond dental school focused solely on treating children. A pediatric dentist often offers games and children’s movies in their lobbies to make children more comfortable. Their chairs and equipment are also suited for children, and they typically give your child a free toy after their exam!
Contrary to popular belief, babies are not always born with “perfect” skin. Many babies have skin issues, such as cradle cap, blemishes, rashes, birthmarks, and hemangiomas. And even as your child ages, they will inevitably get contact dermatitis, acne, dandruff, and skin allergies. While your pediatrician can help with many dermatological issues, a pediatric dermatologist is a great option for persistent and chronic skin issues.
Developmental and Behavioral
Should your child exhibit developmental delays, learning problems, intellectual disabilities, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, or disruptive behavior, a pediatric developmental and behavioral specialist can help you navigate diagnosis and treatment. They may work in consultation with other specialists, including your child’s pediatrician.
Did you know that five out of six children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday, and that ear infections are the most common reason parents bring their child to a doctor? Pediatricians frequently refer patients to a pediatric Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist when a child experiences continual ear infections that may require surgery, or when a child has repetitive throat or sinus infections that require specialized treatment or surgery.
According to the Council of Pediatric Subspecialties (CoPS), a Pediatric Emergency Medicine (PEM) physician is responsible for the initial care of any child with a wide array of conditions from simple to highly complex. The CoPS gives examples of when a child may require a PEM, such as a critical injury or accident, a patient with a metabolic disorder that isn’t responding to therapy, a child with an asthma attack, or a wide variety of behavioral conditions. If the situation is critical, a PEM is there to manage their care.
Conditions such as type 1 diabetes and hormone imbalances are generally more complex than what a primary care pediatrician typically manages. A pediatric endocrinologist can diagnose and treat these types of issues that often originate in the pancreas, thyroid or adrenals. Because these conditions are often chronic, the specialist will care for your child throughout their young life.
Pediatric gastroenterologists manage the digestive health of babies and children. From acute to chronic issues, this type of pediatric specialist can perform specialized testing to diagnose your child, some of which include surgical procedures, scopes, and imaging. Depending on your child’s diagnosis, the pediatric gastroenterologist may work collaboratively with other specialists, including speech therapists, endocrinologists, and pulmonologists.
Pediatrics in Austin may involve pediatric hematologists or oncologists. These specialists provide diagnosis and care for babies and children with blood disorders and cancer. Many of these providers work in children’s hospitals that provide ongoing care for critically ill children. They also manage treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy. Because of the complex nature of these conditions and illnesses, hematologists and oncologists partner with many other specialists, including your child’s pediatrician.
A pediatric hospitalist is a specialist who works almost solely in a hospital setting. They may assist with labor and delivery, treat newborns and neonatal babies, as well as care for children in the emergency room and intensive care units. Many also teach and have leadership roles within the hospital.
The CoPS says that Pediatric Infectious Disease specialists “diagnose, treat, and work to prevent infectious diseases in children. Additionally, they often function like ‘medical detectives’ and evaluate children with symptoms that are recurrent, atypical or unexplained.” A pediatrician typically refers patients to an infectious disease specialist when they have exhausted their own testing and knowledge to diagnose these more complex issues.
A neonatologist may be brought in when a pregnant woman is told her fetus has problems or she will likely deliver preterm. They will help prepare for the delivery and arrange a team of specialists who may need to provide care to the baby once he or she is born. Neonatologists will care for critically ill infants, as well as perform a variety of invasive procedures.
A pediatric nephrologist cares for babies and children with acute or chronic kidney issues. From kidney stones to kidney dysfunction that includes dialysis and transplants, these specialists are able to provide focused care while working to educate families.
Pediatric Neurology covers a host of subspecialties. Everything from brain and spinal cord issues to migraine and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder falls under the Pediatric Neurology umbrella. Your child’s pediatrician will typically catch conditions that require specialized care of a neurologist.
Optometry or Ophthalmology
If your child has any eye conditions, a pediatric optometrist or ophthalmologist will have the specialized tools and experience to properly diagnose and treat your child. Your child’s first eye appointment is just after delivery, where his or her pediatrician or attending physician will perform a routine eye exam. If any vision, eye movement problem, or eye disease is detected, they will refer you to one of these specialists. An optometrist is suited for basic vision issues, while an ophthalmologist specializes in surgical procedures.
Psychology or Psychiatry
You may not consider a psychologist or psychiatrist when you think of pediatrics in Austin, but both of these specialties have a pediatric subspecialty to deal specifically with children and adolescents. Mental health symptoms can be behavioral or emotional, caused by trauma or big life changes, as well as genetics or simply being born with certain issues, such as a learning disability. A pediatric psychiatrist prescribes and monitors medications and typically does not provide counseling. A pediatric psychologist cannot prescribe medications but provides counseling.
If your child suffers from any lung issues, such as chronic wheezing, asthma, pneumonia, or lung diseases, a pediatric pulmonologist will diagnose and treat your child. They can also often help with certain sleep disorders. Many lung issues can be detected in utero, while others appear during childhood. Should your child require a specialist, your pediatrician will help you find the right specialty, as asthma, for example, may also be treated by an allergist.
A pediatric rheumatologist may be required if your child is suspected of having an autoimmune disorder, such as arthritis, systemic lupus, and other rheumatic diseases. They almost always collaborate with other subspecialties, and as with all of these specialties listed above, will work in collaboration with your child’s pediatrician.
Begin with Your Child’s Pediatrician
While all of this may seem overwhelming and a bit scary, there are a couple of things to remember. First, your pediatrician is your point person when anything seems off. Unless it is an emergency, your pediatrician will likely be the first provider who either recognizes something isn’t right or listens to you explain your child’s symptoms. Once they evaluate your child, either in an office setting or in the case of a concierge pediatrician, in your home, they will determine whether your child should see a specialist.
The other point to remember is that having such a wide variety of pediatric specialties means your child will get focused care no matter what may come. You can have peace of mind that your child will be taken care of from head to toe, even when things aren’t as simple as a runny nose.
Be sure to speak with your pediatrician about any issues you notice with your baby or child. They are highly trained to spot worrisome conditions and have all kinds of resources should you need them. They are also there to calm your mind and monitor your child as they develop. This is why regular well-check appointments are so essential.