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November 21, 2012

New Treatment Shows Promise For Asthmatics

by Carol Pearson

A new treatment at the Cleveland Clinic shows promise in helping those with severe asthma. The procedure has been used in clinical trials for several years, and the outcome can be life changing for many patients who have it.

Life with severe asthma is hard. In order to prevent an asthma attack, Karen Ecker needed to live like a shut in.

"I couldn’t go outside without a mask. I was pretty much a hermit in my house," Ecker said.

People with severe asthma often need to take powerful medications to open their airways. But sometimes even these medications aren't enough.

"Any type of triggers like perfumes or lotions or air fresheners would send me into a pretty major asthma attack, and with that I would end up having to go to the emergency room," Ecker said.

Ecker could only work from home. But the toughest part was not being able to provide the care she wanted for her daughter.

"She was two when I got sick. I couldn’t read her a bedtime story. I couldn’t sing with her without coughing," Ecker said.

Now, Ecker can enjoy being outdoors with her daughter and their new dog. All because of a non-drug treatment called bronchial thermoplasty. Dr. Sumita Khatri from the Cleveland Clinic explains.

"It involves the use of heat which is applied to the lining of the lungs, the airways to try to reduce the thickness of the muscle around those airways," Khatri said.

During bronchial thermoplasty, a tube is inserted into the patient's airway, and a catheter is threaded through so heat can be applied to the muscle.

Bronchial thermoplasty is performed in three separate visits.  Each procedure treats a different part of the lungs.

Even before the third procedure, many of the patients feel better.

"Does that mean that their asthma's gone? No. Does it mean that they never have an asthma flare?  No.  Often they still do have asthma flares but we've noticed that the severity of the flare is less and the duration of the flare is less," Khatri said.  

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic are studying results so they can figure out which patients are most likely to benefit from bronchial thermoplasty.  Many patients express these same thoughts.

“It’s like a new life. I get emotional every time I talk about it," Ecker said.

Ecker can now do things most of us take for granted.  She has not had an asthma attack since she had the procedure.  And she rarely has to use an inhaler.