Bronchial Thermoplasty for Asthma

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 each. Each treatment lasts less than an hour, and a different part of your lungs gets treated each time.

Bronchial thermoplasty doesn't cure asthma. But it may 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 likely 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 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.

There is a risk that the treatment will trigger a bad asthma attack that may even cause you to be hospitalized.

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 ages 18 to 65
  • Have not smoked for the past year
  • You need oral steroids to help control your asthma

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.

The goals of the treatment are:

  • 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 Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 30, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Bronchial Thermoplasty."

Gildea, T. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 2011.

Martel, S. "Bronchial Thermoplasty: Ready But for Whom?" (PP presentation)

Medscape: "Bronchial Thermoplasty Devices."

National Jewish Health: "Bronchial Thermoplasty."

Sola, T. Cochrane Summaries, March 2014.

University of Minnesota Medical Center: "Bronchial Thermoplasty: A procedure to help you manage severe asthma."

UpToDate: "Treatment of severe asthma in adolescents and adults."

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