NEW YORK (CBS 2) — Of the 22 million Americans struggling with asthma, most are able to control it with medication. About 15 percent of asthma patients, however, have cases so severe they require frequent trips to the hospital.

Now, there’s a new treatment to help those people breathe easier.

Tony Cook runs between six and seven miles every day.

“I feel fantastic,” he said.

Until recently, though, his severe asthma made it too painful for him to work out for any length of time.

“It feels like a coil is just tightening around your lungs, and you can’t get any relief whatsoever,” Cook said.

In May, Cook underwent a new treatment called bronchial thermoplasty. Doctors put a tiny catheter down his breathing tubes to melt away the smooth muscle that can tighten during an asthma attack.

By increasing airflow, patients can respond better to inhalers and oral medications.

“We’re not curing asthma with this therapy – these patients will still have a diagnosis of asthma,” Dr. David Duhamel, director of pulmonary procedures at Virginia Hospital Center, said. “What we’re hoping to do is bring them down a notch.”

Bronchial thermoplasty isn’t for people with mild or moderate asthma, though. It’s for people whose attacks are so severe that they make regular visits to the emergency room, and need to use rescue inhalers constantly.

Bronchial thermoplasty requires three outpatient treatments that last about 30 minutes each.

“Right after the procedure, I felt that coil loosen. To me, it was amazing,” Cook said.

He felt better immediately, but typically the patients’ asthma gets worse the first few days after treatment. Then, it improves dramatically.

“I’m not coughing, I’m not wheezing,” Cook said. “It’s just the quality of life that I’ve always dreamed of having.”

Patients should check with their insurers, however – because the procedure is so new, Cook’s insurance didn’t cover it.

Bronchial thermoplasty received approval by the Food and Drug Administration in April. The FDA is requiring Asthmatx, the company behind the procedure, to conduct a five-year study to determine the long-term effects of the treatment.

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