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," said Stoecker.
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 Mario Castro, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Mo.,.
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, Dr. Castro says 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," Dr. Castro said.
Stoecker can watch TV while his CPAP goes to work.
"I don't even notice it, honestly," Stoecker said.
He 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 this clinical trial, which is sponsored by the American Lung Association. For more information on how to enroll, go to www.lung.org.
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