Airway Expansion

Bronchial thermoplasty treats severe asthma

A simple plastic coffee stirrer can help you understand what it’s like to have asthma.

In an asthma attack, the airways – the tubes that carry air into and out of your lungs – become narrow and swollen in a process called bronchoconstriction. “If you want to know what having asthmatic lungs is like, breathe through a stirring stick, the kind you get with your coffee,” says Serpil Erzurum, MD, Chair of the Department of Pathobiology in the Lerner Research Institute and Joint Staff with Cleveland Clinic’s Respiratory Institute.

You’ll find that it’s hard to draw much air through the narrow opening, giving you a sense of the disease that affects 22 million Americans. Asthma accounts for 1.8 million emergency room visits and a half-million hospitalizations a year. “We have a lot of treatments for asthma but not enough,” says Dr. Erzurum, whose research focuses on understanding and improving treatments for lung diseases such as asthma and pulmonary hypertension.

Bronchial thermoplasty is a new and effective treatment for severe asthma that was developed from research conducted at Cleveland Clinic, which was one of the lead sites in a multicenter study. The outpatient procedure, part of the comprehensive management and treatment of asthma patients at the Respiratory Institute, uses a catheter to deliver precisely controlled thermal energy to open the airways.

How Bronchial Thermoplasty Works

Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition of the airways characterized by periodic symptoms of breathlessness, coughing and wheezing. Chronic airway inflammation can lead to an increase in thickness of airway smooth muscle (ASM), which causes airflow constriction and difficulty breathing.

The first asthma treatment aimed at reducing the thickness of ASM, bronchial thermoplasty improves a patient’s breathing capacity by reducing the airways’ ability to constrict airflow. Asthma patients who received bronchial thermoplasty in clinical trials demonstrated significant improvement in their asthma symptoms, as well as a reduction in the number of severe asthma flare-ups and emergency department visits. The treatment received FDA approval last year.

“It appears that reducing the smooth muscle surrounding the airway is helpful in severe asthma,” says Dr. Erzurum.

In 2010, Cleveland Clinic opened four new bronchoscopy suites to accommodate increasing diagnostic and therapeutic bronchoscopy volumes. The new bronchoscopy suites were possible in part thanks to a generous contribution by Patricia Brundige in memory of her husband, Thomas, who had emphysema and underwent treatment at Cleveland Clinic.

To make a gift supporting the Respiratory Institute, the Lerner Research Institute or any area of Cleveland Clinic, visit our secure giving site or call Institutional Relations and Development at 216.444.1245 or toll-free at 800.223.2273, ext. 41245.

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