HOUSTON – Seventeen million American adults struggle with asthma, a narrowing of the airways.
For most, medication can help control the symptoms, but for about 5 percent of those patients, there is very little that really works. However, for the very first time, there is a surgical procedure that is helping these patients breathe easier.
Jenn McBride, 38, is one of the patients benefiting. She spends a lot of time in the kitchen. For the first time in years, everyday activities don’t wear her out.
“I just couldn’t get through the day because I couldn’t breathe,” McBride said.
McBride had asthma since she was 21, but four years ago she got pneumonia. After the illness, no matter what doctors prescribed, her airways were often inflamed.
“From that point on, around every six weeks I would either come down with bronchitis or another case of pneumonia,” she said.
Dr. Anthony Zikos offered another option. It’s a new FDA-approved treatment called bronchial thermoplasty.
During the procedure, doctors put a bronchoscope and a flexible catheter through a patient’s mouth into the lungs to deliver radio frequency waves to the lining of the tissue.
“It’s approximately 65 degrees, thermal energy, and the idea is to decrease the muscle mass in the bronchial tree,” Zikos explained.
With less muscle, the airway walls are less likely to contract during an asthma attack. Doctors perform three separate procedures, three weeks apart.
Pediatrician, Dr. Deborah Gentile, said the procedure has its limits.
“This isn’t for every asthmatic. This is for the worst of the worst that we can’t control,” she said.
The procedure has kept McBride out of the doctor’s office and given her more time with her girls.
“It’s just amazing,” she said.
Doctors said once the initial three sessions of thermoplasty are done, the procedure can’t be repeated because it’s still not clear what additional thermoplasty would do to the airway walls.
Zikos said the procedure isn’t a cure for asthma. Most patients will still require some medication to control symptoms.