CPAP Being Studied as Treatment for Asthma

March 12, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
By Denise Dador
More than 25 million Americans suffer from asthma. They use steroids, inhalers, and pills to help control their symptoms. But, soon there may be a new option: doctors are using a sleep disorder device to help asthma patients breathe easier.
College professor Kurt Stoecker spends many late nights grading papers, but some nights his asthma gets the best of him.
"You can't sleep, that kind of thing. It's a tightness in your chest, and then you 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," Mario Castro, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, Washington University School of Medicine said.
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.  
"The most exciting thing is that it's not a drug. This is a device," Dr. Castro said.
Stoecker watches 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 short period of time, and not indefinitely, to see results.
Researchers at 19 sites across the country are still recruiting patients for this clinical trial, which is sponsored by the American Lung Association.