ST. LOUIS - More than 25 million Americans suffer from asthma.
Steroids, inhalers and pills are some of the main methods used to control symptoms, however, there may soon be a new way that's not a drug, but a device that has been successful for sleep disorders.
College professor Kurt Stoecker spends many late nights grading papers, but some nights his asthma gets the best of him.
"Sometimes, I can't sleep. It's like tightness in my chest that causes me to cough," Stoecker said.
He was diagnosed with asthma at age 16. He's taken steroids and inhalers, but now he's trying something new.
As part of a clinical trial, doctors are testing whether treatment with a CPAP machine will improve symptoms in asthma patients by making their airways less reactive.
"At nighttime, their muscles that are around their windpipes are not being allowed to relax. In essence, they're working almost 24 hours a day," said Dr. Mario Castro, professor of medicine and pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine.
The CPAP pushes gentle air down the windpipe, forcing the muscles to relax. It's typically used for patients with sleep apnea, but doctors say it could be the first drug-free option for asthma patients.
In the 12-week study, patients used the device for at least four hours a day and there were no serious side effects, however, Castro said there could be an uncomfortable mask fit and interference with sleep. Less likely side effects include drying of nasal passages, mouth or throat.
"The most exciting thing is that it's not a drug. This is a device," Castro said.
Stoecker can watch TV while his CPAP goes to work.
"I don't even notice it, honestly," said Stoecker, who hopes the simple mask could one day be all he needs to keep his asthma under control.
Doctors say the hope is patients will only need to use the CPAP for a period of time — not indefinitely — to see results. Doctors think the effect is in a matter of days.
Researchers at 19 sites across the country are still recruiting patients for the clinical trial, which is sponsored by the American Lung Association.
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