More than 25 million Americans suffer from asthma. They use steroids, inhalers, and pills to help control symptoms. But soon there may be a new way: it s not a drug but a device used for sleep disorders.

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 used 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 can 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.

In the 12-week study, patients used the device for at least four hours a day with 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.

The American Lung Association says alternative asthma treatments are critically needed because many patients are unable or unwilling to use current drug therapies due to high costs and potentially long term side effects.

The clinical trial is sponsored by the American Lung Association. Closest sites are in Arizona, Colorado and California.

Find more information about the list of centers in the clinical trial on the American Lung Association website.

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