Imagine an asthma treatment that reduces the need for steroidal treatments and pursuant side effects, improves long term prognosis for the disease and perhaps eliminates the disease itself.
If that sounds too good to be true, consider that patients at a Utah hospital have shown dramatic improvement in their asthma symptoms and quality of life through a new treatment termed “thermoplasty” involves using a device that reaches into the lobes of the lungs to apply precise burst of thermal energy, usually about 10 seconds long per affected area.
The device is inserted through a catheter into the lungs, then the tip expands, contacting the walls of the affected airways. The end of the device is fitted with a camera to enable the physician to see the areas being treated. The heat when applied apparently softens the muscles that produce spams triggering asthma attacks.
Doctors feel there is particular hope in use of the Lifelight even for patients whose lifestyles have been directly impacted due to loss of sleep and other health disturbance caused by asthma.
One patient had twice been on a ventilator and had acute asthma symptoms for 42 years. One treated by interventional pulmonologist James Pearl, the patient has show marked improvement including the ability to travel even to remote areas where medical help for asthma symptoms would not be readily available.
The patient is sleeping through the night as well. Every morning he would otherwise wake up needing medication.
The key benefit of the Lifelight treatment is that patients can immediately and sometimes permanently get off the use of steroids. The treatment shows about an 80% success rate and continuing studies show fewer required visits to the hospital, fewer emergency room interventions and fewer lost days at work and school.
The procedure is still in the study stage, and that requires a degree of caution, but the data on patients under observation seems to support a lasting effect not just for the first few years but possibly for the lifetime of the patient. Hence the name, Lifelight. Patients require only a local anesthetic and go home the same day.
One challenge will be getting the treatment covered by traditional insurance plans. Bronchial thermoplasty is reimbursable under Medicare, but private insurance companies are reticent in picking up the cost, which can reach $20,000.
The therapy is of course FDA approved and is now applicable to people 18 years or older. Studies are underway to see if the treatment works for children as well.