CPAP for asthma

Clinical trial to see if machine can improve symptoms in asthma patients

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

ST. LOUIS, Mo. - 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.

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 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," 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

Additional Information:

Asthma is a condition in which your airways narrow and swell and produce extra mucus. This disease causes wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, and shortness of breath that may interfere with daily activities. Typically asthma is a minor mishap, but it can lead to life-threatening asthma attacks. Asthma can't be cured, but its symptoms can be controlled. Exposure to various substances that trigger allergies and irritants can trigger symptoms of asthma.  Asthma triggers vary from person to person and can include: cold air, airborne allergens (like pollen), allergic reactions to some foods (like peanuts), respiratory infections, physical activity, certain medications (like aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.), strong emotions and stress, GERD, and menstrual cycle in some women. (Source:

CPAP:   Continuous positive airway pressure therapy (CPAP) uses a machine to help a person who has obstructive sleep apnea breathe more easily during sleep.  A CPAP machine increases air pressure in the throat so that the airways do not collapse when a person breathes in.  The machine will have one of the following: a mask that covers your nose and mouth; a mask that covers your nose only-called nasal continuous positive airway pressure or NCPAP; and prongs that fit into your nose.  CPAP is the most effective nonsurgical treatment for obstructive sleep apnea.  It is also the treatment of choice for people who have coronary artery disease or heart failure.  (Source:

CPAP AND ASTHMA:  The American Lung Association's Asthma Clinical Research Centers (ACRCs) are recruiting asthma patients for a study to examine whether the use of CPAP, which keeps airways open during sleep, makes airways more relaxed and thus improves asthma symptoms.  With the CPAP therapy, clean, humidified air is blown into the lungs in order to prevent airways from collapsing.  Therefore, the chest and lungs are more expanded helping patients to breathe easier.  "If CPAP is found to be effective, this will introduce an entirely new way to treat asthma without medication," Robert Wise, MD, director of the American Lung Association Asthma Clinical Research Centers Network, was quoted as saying. "If we can reduce the number of inhalers and frequency of inhaled rescue medication with this new treatment, it will not only relieve the burden of asthma but improve their quality of life as well."  The CPAP clinical trial is currently enrolling non-smokers between the ages of 15 to 60 with history of asthma. Nineteen centers across the U.S. are still recruiting, including: University of Arizona at Tucson, University of California, San Diego, National Jewish Health (Colorado), Nemours Children Clinic (Florida), University of Miami, University of South Florida (Tampa, FL), Illinois Consortium: Northwestern University, St. Vincent's Health (Indiana), LSU Health Science Center, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine (Missouri), New York Medical College, New York City Consortium, North Shore-LIJ Medical Center (NY), Duke University Medical Center, The Ohio State University, Baylor College of Medicine (Texas), Northern New England Consortium (Vermont), and University of Virginia. (Source:

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