September 10, 2018 – The number of people living with asthma has
nearly doubled over the last 40 years, according to the National Health
Interview Survey, and Southeast Georgia is no exception. But, thanks to
recent scientific breakthroughs, there’s a new procedure that has
the potential to dramatically improve the quality of life for people who
have trouble controlling their asthma.
The procedure, called bronchial thermoplasty, uses a tiny heating element
to destroy some of the muscle tissue in the airway that contracts during
an asthma attack. With less muscle to close the airway, attacks are less
frequent and less severe. In fact, a recent study has shown that those
who undergo bronchial thermoplasty experience an average of 32 percent
fewer severe attacks, 84 percent fewer emergency room visits, and 66 percent
less time lost from work, school or other daily activities due to asthma symptoms.
“One woman we treated was on three or four different medications
and was constantly being admitted to the hospital. She’s now off
her medications completely, and only has a rescue inhaler in case of emergency,” says
Kevin M. Fussell, M.D., medical director, Pulmonary Care at Southeast Georgia Health System.
Fussell, along with
Rafael Alba Yunen, M.D., offer the procedure at the Health System’s Brunswick Campus. Fussell
stresses that the results will be different for everyone and it may take
three to five months to see the full benefits, but that for many, the
procedure can be life-changing, especially when medications aren’t working.
“We’re very excited to offer this procedure,” says Alba
Yunen. “If, as results suggest, bronchial thermoplasty leads to
fewer days of work missed and fewer emergency room visits by patients
with severe asthma, then it could help reduce the economic and health
care burden of the disease. Although BT is not a cure for severe asthma,
it can render it more moderate and more manageable in select patients.
For those severe patients, it can be transformative, allowing them to
regain a sense of control over their once unpredictable lives.”
Fussell says that although the airway may be temporarily irritated after
the procedure, which can cause an increase in flare-ups, the procedure
is quick, painless and virtually risk-free. “We do three separate
treatments, three weeks apart, to allow the airway time to heal in between,”
explains Fussell. “It’s a minimally invasive outpatient procedure,
and each treatment only lasts about 30 minutes. It is done under general
anesthesia, so patients may feel the effects of the sedation for a few
hours, but there have been almost no reports of pain, discomfort or other
Because bronchial thermoplasty is a relatively new treatment, one of the
biggest obstacles can be getting insurance companies to cover it. But
the Health System is committed to making sure that patients get the care
they need, and Boston Scientific, the company that makes the equipment
used in the procedure, has also stepped up to help ensure patients get
approved. “It’s becoming easier and easier to get insurers
to cover the procedure because they realize that by improving people’s
health they are also reducing future medication and treatment costs,”
Southeast Georgia Health System has always been a leader in making sure
the community has access to the newest and most advanced procedures, and
offering bronchial thermoplasty for asthma patients is just the latest example.
Fussell adds, “If you or someone you love is having difficulty with
asthma, it’s definitely worth talking to your doctor, or seeing
a specialist about whether or not bronchial thermoplasty may be an option.”
Fussell and Alba Yunen are board-certified internal and pulmonary medicine
physicians. To schedule an appointment, contact
Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-Pulmonary Medicine at 912-466-5504.