Can Surgery Fix Asthma?

When common treatment methods aren't enough to manage your persistent asthma symptoms, it may be time to consider a new surgical technique.

Bronchial thermoplasty was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010 for use in people whose asthma doesn't respond to other less invasive measures. This asthma surgery is performed with a special device that delivers heat to the lining of the airways in order to shrink any inflammation there. By opening up the airways, the discomfort that typically occurs with an asthma attack is minimized.

How Bronchial Thermoplasty Works

The surgeon guides a long flexible tube called a bronchoscope that has a light and camera at the end through the nose and throat down into the lungs. The bronchoscope also contains a special thermoplasty device that has electrodes on the end. The electrodes are heated using radiofrequency waves and then are applied to the airway walls. The heat shrinks the inflamed tissue, helping to prevent the spasms and tightening, which frequently occurs during an asthma attack. While this may not completely eliminate asthma, it can certainly minimize the symptoms.

Since all of the airways need to be treated for the best results, bronchial thermoplasty is usually performed in a series of three separate surgical procedures, with each surgery addressing a different part of the lungs.

The Hope of Bronchial Thermoplasty

The clinical data on bronchial thermoplasty has been quite encouraging, although only a handful of hospitals currently have staff trained to perform the procedure. In addition, this technique isn't appropriate for all asthma sufferers. It's only meant for people who have severe asthma that isn't controlled by other methods and who meet certain lung function criteria to ensure the best results.

If your doctor thinks that bronchial thermoplasty is an appropriate option for your situation, you'll need to understand that like any type of surgery, there are some possible risks involved. This can include a collapsed lung or other respiratory complications.

Weighing the Costs of Asthma Surgery

Many insurance companies aren't yet covering bronchial thermoplasty, so if you're considering undergoing this procedure, you may need to be prepared to pay for it yourself. Just keep in mind that in return for the cost, once you get a better handle on your asthma, you'll probably improve your productivity at work and also reduce your medical costs. Better yet, you can expect an enhanced quality of life overall, making this quite a promising investment.




"Medical Devices. Asthmatx, Inc. Alair Bronchial Thermoplasty System - P080032." US Food and Drug Administration., 19 May 2010. Web. 16 May 2011.

"New Severe Asthma Treatment: Bronchial Thermoplasty." El Camino Hospital., n.d. Web. 16 May 2011.