A new tool cools asthma by heating lung tissue to kill overgrown smooth muscle in airways, a hallmark of the disease.
People with severe asthma who received the treatment experienced, on average, 10 fewer asthma attacks and 86 more days per year without wheezing and coughing than untreated patients did.
A small metal element at the tip of a bronchoscope heats to 65°C. The tip radiates enough heat to kill the smooth muscle lining the lung's airways without permanently harming underlying tissue, says Gerard Cox of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, who led the multicenter study. "It's the difference between getting suntanned and sunburned."
Charles G. Irvin of the Vermont Lung Center in Burlington says that the cost and immediate discomfort of the technique, called bronchial thermoplasty, make it suitable only for "frequent fliers"—people with asthma who visit the emergency room at least a few times per year.