'Life changing' procedure to be offered to people with severe asthma

A new "life-changing" procedure is to be offered on the NHS to people with severe asthma, which could bring hope to thousands of patients in the UK.

Every asthma attack is life-threatening
Every asthma attack is life-threatening

Bronchial thermoplasty is administered under sedation or general anaesthetic, with short pulses of radio frequency energy applied to the airway wall.

The novel treatment reduces the smooth muscle mass lining the airways, decreasing their ability to constrict, and may decrease the severity and frequency of severe asthma attacks - thereby improving quality of life.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said new data on the procedure has led to a change of recommendation, so it will be allowed to be carried out under standard arrangements rather than special arrangements which meant there were stricter criteria about who was eligible.

Joe Farrington-Douglas, head of policy and external affairs at the charity Asthma UK, said: "Making this treatment available to more people could offer much-needed hope to thousands of people in the UK who have severe asthma.

"This debilitating form of asthma is resistant to regular treatments, meaning many have to cope with terrifying asthma symptoms, such as gasping for breath, as well repeated trips to A&E. Every asthma attack is life-threatening.

"Until now, this treatment has only been available for specific patients at some specialist centres, but these new guidelines could mean more people with the condition could reap the benefits."

He said severe asthma is hard to diagnose, which means many patients do not get the help they need.

"We are now calling on the NHS to recognise the importance of severe asthma treatments and ensure local health bodies fund them," he added.

"There also needs to be more research into the long-term side effects of all treatments for severe asthma. People with severe asthma should get the care and support they need to live their lives to the full."

Nice said people with severe asthma whose symptoms cannot be adequately controlled with drugs may be suitable for the procedure.

It will only take place on adults over the age of 18, in specialist centres where there is on-site access to intensive care.

Asthma is a long-term condition of the airways in the lungs that affects children, young people and adults. It causes inflammation and constriction of the smooth muscle in the airway walls (bronchoconstriction).

This is triggered by increased responsiveness of the airways to various allergic stimuli, leading to airflow obstruction.

Symptoms include recurring episodes of wheezing, breathlessness, chest-tightness and coughing.

Professor Kevin Harris, programme director and clinical adviser for the Interventional Procedures Programme at Nice, said: "This is a procedure which is innovative and it does work.

"If you are frequently admitted to hospital with severe asthma which cannot be controlled with drugs, this is a procedure which people may wish to consider after discussions with their clinician.

"Asthma is a common disease and the vast majority of patients won't require this treatment. But for people with severe asthma this procedure could be life changing.

"The committee was convinced it was safe enough and works well enough for use with standard arrangements in the NHS."