Breathe Easy: New Way to Treat Severe Asthma

Procedure uses heat to thin the airway muscles

woman using inhaler

Put down that rescue inhaler. People with severe, persistent asthma are breathing easier with a novel treatment called bronchial thermoplasty.

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Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010, the minimally invasive procedure has been gaining media attention as more patients report life-changing results. Cleveland Clinic pulmonologist Sumita Khatri, MD, has seen it herself. As part of a team that cares for severe asthmatics, she was one of the first doctors in Northeast Ohio to perform the procedure.

Dr. Khatri was featured demonstrating how the treatment works in a recent segment of ABC’s World News. Watch: New Study Shows Long-lasting Treatment for Asthma Sufferers.

“I have patients who all they can concentrate on every day is their breathing,” says Dr. Khatri. “They try to work, but they have to take breaks in the middle of their workday to breathe and take medicines to breathe. It hampers their ability to walk up steps, to be in public places, to even go on vacation.”

According to Dr. Khatri, severe asthmatics often have thickened airway muscles that can reduce the amount of air flowing into and out of the lungs. When combined with environmental factors, the result can be shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing.

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For about 90 percent of asthmatics, attacks are controllable with medication and by avoiding allergens and other triggers. It’s the rest, about 2.4 million Americans, who need something more.

Bronchial thermoplasty uses a small catheter that applies thermal energy (heat) to muscles within airway walls to alter and thin the airway muscle. It takes three one-hour treatments, about three weeks apart, to complete the procedure. Typically, patients go home the same day.

Some patients feel an immediate improvement and report using less medication. Long-term, one study showed fewer asthma flare-ups and emergency room visits for those who had the procedure. Quality of life scores improved, too.

However, bronchial thermoplasty isn’t for everyone. It does not work well for smokers or those with emphysema. And, the procedure itself can trigger asthma attacks.

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“Just doing a procedure where you’re in their airways is risky,” says Dr. Khatri. “You have to be sick enough to need the treatment but stable enough to be able to tolerate it.”

More information

From EveryDayHealth.com: Heat May Relieve Asthma When Medicines Aren’t Enough

Heat May Relieve Asthma When Medicines Aren’t Enough

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