Not being able to take a deep enough breath can be terrifying, for some individuals, oxygen gets trapped in the air sacs, unable to be transferred over to the blood vessels. This results in hyperinflation of the lungs, and it can lead to breathlessness and other serious complications.
When we breathe, air flows through our lungs and into the alveoli where the exchange of gases takes place – oxygen from the lungs and carbon dioxide from the blood vessels, and vice versa. However, there are certain diseases such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) that prevents this smooth exchange from happening. Air gets trapped in the diseased areas of the lungs causing hyperinflation. When this happens, it becomes difficult to breathe as the trapped air prevents new air from being inhaled.
Endobronchial valves are removable, one-way valves that help to reduce lung hyperinflation by releasing trapped air in the diseased parts of the lungs. By allowing air to be breathed out and preventing air from being breathed in (in the diseased section), it helps the rest of the lung to expand normally, enabling the usual breathing rhythm.
Endobronchial valves are inserted using the help of a bronchoscope, which is a long, thin tube that has a light and camera attached at one end. They are implanted in such a way that exhaled air can exit the diseased section of the lung when the valves open on exhalation, but inhaled air cannot enter the diseased section of the lung because the valves close on inhalation.
Placement of endobronchial valves is a minimally invasive procedure that takes approximately 60 minutes.
You may be required to stay in the hospital for a few days for observation and within a few weeks, you should be able to get back to your normal activities.
You may feel a bit groggy after the procedure, so you will be monitored for a few hours to ensure that you recover well. A chest x-ray might be performed after the procedure to ensure that no damage was done to your lungs and to ensure that the valves are in place.
Your throat might still feel numb from the numbing medicine so you will not be allowed to eat or drink until you recover. Your respiratory specialist will advise you on when you may return to your normal activities and diet.
Endobronchial valves are used in individuals with advanced or severe COPD. COPD is the umbrella term for a few lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. With this disease, parts of the respiratory tract are damaged, thereby preventing or restricting the natural process of breathing.
The two main types of COPD are:
Before the procedure, you must avoid eating and drinking for 4 hours and you may be required to stop certain medications such as blood thinners and aspirin. Either a sedative or general anaesthesia will be used during the procedure, depending on your preference and advice of your respiratory specialist.
Placement of endobronchial valves is a minimally invasive procedure, but like all medical procedures, some risks are involved, such as:
You must be at least 22 years old and have advanced or severe emphysema/COPD that cannot be treated with other medical interventions.