Texas Health Dallas Offers Ground-breaking Asthma Treatment
05/04/2011

DALLAS — Pulmonologists on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas are the first in the North Texas region to begin performing a ground-breaking procedure that could offer long-term relief to asthma sufferers.

Call today to request an appointment, 214-345-6541.Until now, the primary treatment for asthma, considered a major problem in North Texas because of dry air and poor air quality, has been several different types of medications. Even with this assortment of inhalers and other drugs, many asthma sufferers don’t find full relief.

Bronchial Thermoplasty
But doctors say a new minimally invasive procedure, called bronchial thermoplasty, could mean long-term help for those with severe, unresponsive asthma-related breathing problems.

“We’re hopeful that many people who suffer from severe persistent asthma will find significant relief with this treatment,” said Dr. Gary Weinstein, a pulmonologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and medical director of the hospital’s Asthma Management Program. “This isn’t a cure, but it’s a major step forward for what can be a debilitating and life-threatening condition.”

The new treatment offered at Texas Health Dallas is a minimally invasive procedure done during three outpatient visits. Each visit is about three weeks apart and treats a different part of the lungs. Patients are under light anesthesia and typically go home the same day.

During the procedure, a small, flexible catheter is guided into the lung using a bronchoscope accessed through the nose or mouth. No incision is required. The tip of the catheter is expanded to touch the walls of the airway. The catheter delivers controlled radiofrequency energy along the length of the airway walls in 10 second bursts. The heat reduces the amount of excess airway smooth muscle and limits its ability to constrict, making it less sensitive to irritants in the air.

“This is the first treatment for asthma that goes right to the source of the problem,” said Weinstein, who is also Texas Health Dallas’ director of pulmonology and critical care medicine. “For adults with severe asthma that’s not well controlled with medications, we think this procedure could improve their quality of life with a significant reduction in symptoms.”

Traditionally, living with asthma has meant patients have to avoid “triggers,” use medications religiously to prevent flare-ups and have an inhaler handy at all times.

“With asthma it’s hard to know exactly what’s going to trigger an attack — and even with known triggers, medications don’t always work,” said Dr. Gary Gross, head of the allergy/immunology program at Texas Health Dallas and an allergist on the hospital’s medical staff. “It’s exciting that we now have another option that can be used to address the long-term symptoms of severe, unresponsive asthma.”

More than 22 million Americans suffer from asthma, according to the American Lung Association. The rate of asthma in North Texas is higher than the national average because of poor air quality, caused by pollution and car exhaust, and high seasonal pollens, all of which can trigger asthma attacks. Nationwide each year, complications from asthma attacks result in approximately 13.6 million unscheduled doctor visits, 1.8 million emergency rooms visits, and 500,000 hospitalizations, according to the lung association.

“It’s a major health problem for thousands of North Texans,” said Denise Rebel, RRT, AE-C, coordinator of Texas Health Dallas’ asthma management program. “We work with numerous patients who have to diligently stay on top of their condition to avoid major attacks.”

Normally, the airways of the lungs, which are like a network of pipes, are lined with smooth muscle that constricts if a person inhales smoke or other harmful irritants. This defense mechanism is why people typically cough and can’t take a deep breath if they accidentally breathe smoke or a powerful-smelling chemical. For most people, the smooth muscle stops constricting and their airways open up to normal size once they’re no longer exposed to the irritant.

For people with asthma, the smooth muscle in the airways overreacts to a non life-threatening “trigger.” Much like an allergic reaction, an asthma attack can be triggered by tree pollen, pet dander or poor air quality. It can also be triggered simply by exercise, especially when the air is cold and dry, a common condition in North Texas.

In addition, muscle around the airways can constrict during an attack, further shrinking the airway. An attack can last for hours, even days. In serious cases, a person can go into respiratory arrest and need immediate medical attention to restore breathing.

The non-drug procedure is FDA approved for anyone 18 and older who has chronic, hard-to-control asthma despite taking standard asthma medications. Signs and symptoms of asthma include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
  • An audible whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling (wheezing is a common sign of asthma in children)
  • Bouts of coughing or wheezing that are worsened by a respiratory virus such as a cold or the flu

About Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas
Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas is an 898-bed acute care hospital and recognized clinical program leader, having provided compassionate care to the residents of Dallas and surrounding communities since 1966. US News and World Report has ranked Texas Health Dallas among the nation’s best hospitals in digestive disorders, orthopedics, and neurology and neurosurgery. An affiliate of the faith-based, nonprofit Texas Health Resources system, Texas Health Dallas has approximately 4,000 employees and an active medical staff of more than 1,000 physicians. For more information, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org/Dallas.