Asthma traps woman in her home for 5 years

New treatment gives patients like her hope

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Trouble breathing, coughing, stuffiness and more. 60 million people suffer from allergies and asthma. There's no cure, but now doctors have a new weapon to help these people attack the annoying symptoms.

Karen Ecker, who suffers from severe asthma, lived the last five years a prisoner inside her own home.

"I couldn't have the windows open at all. My daughter would be playing outside and I'd get to watch her," said Ecker.

One day she was fine and the next she wasn't.

"All the sudden I couldn't breathe," she said.

Suffering severe asthma, simply leaving her house was dangerous.

"My lips would turn blue and I would just cough uncontrollably," Ecker said.

Anti-allergy medication, even steroids did nothing to help. Then the FDA approved bronchial thermoplasty. It uses radio-frequency energy to heat up problem areas.

"It seems to reduce the thickness of the smooth muscle, which may reduce the spasming," said Sumita B. Khatri, M.D., MS, co-director of the asthma center at the Cleveland Clinic Respiratory Institute.

A catheter goes through the nose or mouth, into the lungs and delivers thermal energy to the airways.

"And this basket has 4 metal struts on it, which is used to apply heat to the airways of the lung," Khatri said.

It's not a cure, but it's given Karen a chance to start crossing things off her bucket list.

"The first one on the list was a picnic with Steph outside," Ecker said.

Also checked off, a trip to the zoo, fireworks, a family vacation, going out to dinner and her celebration thermoplasty garden!

"It's just a symbol of freedom just to be outside," Ecker said. "At first I would stand at the window and look at it and dream of the day I would be standing out here."

Enjoying what most of us take for granted for the first time in years. Lifestyle changes, steroid inhalers and nasal sprays are a first line of asthma defense. Bronchialtherapy is only used for severe asthma sufferers and has been shown to improve the quality of life by reducing asthma symptoms, lessen the severity of flare-ups and reduce the number of emergency room visits.

Additional Information On Bronchial Thermoplasty:

Bronchial thermoplasty is the first device-based asthma treatment approved by the FDA. It's performed through the working channel of a standard flexible bronchoscope that is passed through a patient's nose or mouth, into their lungs. The tip of the small catheter is expanded to contract the walls of targeted airways. The thermal energy is then delivered to the airway walls to reduce the presence of excess airway smooth muscle that narrows the airways in patients with asthma. By decreasing the ability of the airways to constrict, this new treatment has been shown to help patients with severe asthma gain substantially better control over their disease.

According to a study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, the patients treated with bronchial thermoplasty saw their quality of life improve. They saw a 32-percent drop in asthma attacks, an 84-percent reduction in emergency room visits for respiratory symptoms, a 73-percent drop in hospitalizations for respiratory symptoms and a 66-percent reduction in days lost from work or school or other daily activities due to asthma. Doctors stressed that this device does not cure asthma, but it helps improve the patient's quality of life. There's little risk since there is no incision, but patients may suffer from worse asthma symptoms the days immediately following the procedure. (Source: American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Medicine)

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