Unique Treatment for Severe Asthma Can Eliminate Needs for Drugs
Innovative treatment may restore normal life.
After decades of treating asthma sufferers with inhalers, pills, shots and even hospitalization, an innovative new technique promises long-term relief. Bronchial thermoplasty helps patients breathe easier by lessening the severity of asthma attacks and preventing future attacks.
Asthma is a respiratory disease that causes the airways in the lungs to narrow, making it difficult to breathe. The lungs consist of multiple airway passages that are surrounded by airway smooth muscle. For people with asthma, this airway smooth muscle is more susceptible to triggers and irritants that can cause it to constrict and reduce the amount of air that flows through the lungs.
The new bronchial thermoplasty treatment uses the Alair® System, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The typical treatment cycle is three procedures done three weeks apart. Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) is among the few hospitals currently offering it.
“Bronchial thermoplasty remodels the airway smooth muscle,” said Mark Vollenweider, MD, MPH, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at ORMC. “Using a small catheter we deliver controlled energy to the airways of the lung to reduce the amount of excessive airway smooth muscle. The reduction decreases the muscle’s ability to constrict the airways, resulting in a decreased occurrence of asthma attacks. It is the constricting or tightening of the muscles that causes breathing problems when someone is having an asthma attack.”
Patient outcomes have been positive and lives restored, sometimes soon after the first procedure within the treatment cycle.
“This is a game changer for patients with severe asthma,” said Dr. Vollenweider. “This is the first type of asthma treatment I have seen that changes someone’s life in such a remarkable way with almost no complications and with low long-term risk."
"Many patients are able to discontinue breathing medications and some are able to stop using steroids. This is significant improvement to their health because medications to treat severe asthma often lead to diabetes, osteoporosis, and other medical conditions," said Dr. Vollenweider.
Research shows the life changing results maybe lasting.
“Ten years of research and seven years of safety data shows the benefits from a complete treatment cycle remain five to seven years later,” said Dr. Vollenweider. “Patients may experience a 32 percent reduction in the number of asthma attacks and a 73 to 84 percent reduction of hospital and emergency department visits.”
A groundbreaking treatment option like bronchial thermoplasty is especially significant given the unknowns of asthma.
“We don’t know exactly why asthma occurs,” said Dr. Vollenweider. “It is believed to be the result of bronchial smooth muscles constricting and/or inflammation of the airways. The unknowns make treatment a challenge. Inhalers, steroids and other medications work well for some, but not so well for others.”
Asthma is considered a serious public health problem, impacting nearly 25 million Americans. The condition is one of the top five chronic diseases globally, along with heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.
In patients with severe asthma, traditional treatment methods including inhalers and daily steroid medications do not always prevent frequent and life-threatening asthma attacks. In 2007, asthma resulted in approximately 12.8 million people experiencing asthmas attacks, 1.75 million emergency room visits, 456,000 hospitalizations and 3,447 asthma-related deaths.
Severe asthma can adversely impact the quality of life for patients including limiting or impacting their ability to complete daily living tasks, work, and hobbies and enjoy life.