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Asthma Health Center

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Bronchial Thermoplasty for Asthma

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Bronchial thermoplasty is a treatment for severe asthma. It's a way to open your airways. The procedure uses gentle heat to shrink the smooth muscles in your lungs -- the ones that tighten during asthma attacks and make it hard to breathe.

You'll go to a hospital to get bronchial thermoplasty. It's given in three separate sessions with about 3 weeks between them. Each treatment lasts less than an hour, and a different part of your lungs gets treated each time.

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For many people, asthma attacks may happen more often in the winter. "There are two challenges for people with asthma in the winter. One is that they spend more time inside. The other is that it’s cold outside," says H. James Wedner, MD, an asthma expert at Washington University in St. Louis. While you’re indoors, you breathe in asthma triggers such as mold, pet dander, dust mites, and even fires in the fireplace. When you venture out, you could have an asthma attack from inhaling the cold air...

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Bronchial thermoplasty doesn't cure asthma. But it can make you feel and breathe better.

What Happens During a Treatment

First, your doctor will test your lungs by checking to see how much air you can blow out.

You'll take a steroid pill and, through a vein in your arm, you'll get medicine to make you sleepy. You may get other medicine to numb your mouth and throat.

Your doctor will put a small tube called a bronchoscope through your mouth, down your throat, and into your lung. A smaller tube goes inside the bronchoscope and warms each small airway in that part of your lung. The heat is very mild -- cooler than a cup of coffee. You won't feel it or the tube touching your lungs.

After the treatment, you'll rest for 3 or 4 hours. You'll also do another lung test. Depending on the results, you might spend the night in the hospital. Or you could go home the same day.

A nurse will call you 1, 2, and 7 days after each session to see how you're doing. Your doctor will check on your progress closely for 6 weeks after your last treatment.

Side Effects and Risks

It's common to feel sleepy right after your treatment. You may also cough or wheeze some, or be short of breath. These symptoms usually go away in a week. In rare cases, you may need hospital care for your symptoms.

Bronchial thermoplasty is very safe.

Who It Helps

This treatment is only for people with severe asthma. Your doctor may recommend it if you:

  • Have asthma attacks that aren't controlled by inhalers or asthma medicines called beta-agonists
  • Are 18 to 65 years old
  • Have not smoked for the past year

What Are the Benefits?

After bronchial thermoplasty, you'll still need an inhaler or other asthma medicines. But you may not use them as often.

You may also have:

  • Fewer asthma attacks
  • Fewer emergency room and hospital visits
  • Fewer days lost from work, school, and other activities
  • Better symptoms for up to 5 years after treatment

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on June 12, 2014
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