People with severe asthma can benefit from a procedure called bronchial thermoplasty which uses blasts of heat to cut asthma attacks by a third. Around five million people in the UK suffer from asthma and half a million sufferers have severe asthma which cannot be controlled by drugs. 1000 people have fatal asthma attacks each year.
The new treatment uses blasts of heat to ‘burn away’ lung muscle, making it harder for the breathing tubes to narrow when irritated and allowing asthma sufferers to breathe more easily.
In one US/Scottish study, patients given a course of three treatments, when patients are under moderate sedation and can go home the same day, had fewer asthma attacks, needed to use less medication for emergencies and visited A&E less often. The procedure involves inserting an electrode which emits low-level heat for a blast of ten seconds, before the electrode is moved into another part of the lung. Patients, who can have the treatment on the NHS, usually experience worsening symptoms for a few days after the treatment but can have long-term improvement of symptoms. Bronchial thermoplasty is a well-researched procedure that has been shown to be effective for some people with severe asthma in the short to medium term. We would be keen to see further clinical trials to give evidence of the longer-term impact.
The procedure itself should only be carried out in specialised settings. It could have a life-changing effect on certain people with severe asthma, but isn’t suitable for everyone. People with asthma should discuss the various treatment options with their doctor or asthma nurse to find the best way to keep their asthma well-managed and under control.