Blowing noses: High Flow Nasal Cannula

Most paramedics (myself included) find intubating children with respiratory failure to be more than a little stressful, mostly because they are a cohort of patient with whom we have little experience.  I suspect we also feel that the stakes are a little higher in a 10 month old versus the typical 87 year old cardiac arrest.

So here may be a way to at least stave off the need for intubation for a while.  According to this paper from Pediatric Emergency Medicine the use of high flow nasal cannula in paediatric patients with respiratory insufficiency reduced the odds for intubation by 83%.  Mortality and length of ICU stay remained unchanged, but anything that can avoid the occasional intubator having to reach for the blade of doom is a good thing in my mind.

I imagine that most paramedics are comfortable with the use of high flow nasal O2 as a means of apnoeic oxygenation whilst carrying out intubation.  HFNC in the breathing patient probably works by the same couple of mechanisms: washing out deadspace to provide a reservoir of O2, and a slight positive pressure that improves alveolar recruitment and thus gas exchange.  (In the apnoeic patient there will still be an uptake of approximately 250mls/min of O2 through diffusion, with about 50ml/min of CO2 produced, creating a gradient between the dead-space and the alveoli.  Fill this gradient with O2 instead of room air and we have plenty of time to get a good view and place a tube)

If you choose to try this technique on children, bear in mind that it is not generally used with plain, ‘vanilla’ O2 that comes straight out of the tank; the gas is normally warmed and humidified and will be significantly more comfortable than the cold dry stuff we have on hand.  As with most things involving children, I find that discretion may be the better part of valour and there is often a trade off between letting a child settle on it’s own and jumping in boots and all, potentially causing more distress.

If anyone has any experience with this in children let me know, I would love to know how well it worked in the field.

Wing, R., James, C., Maranda, L. S., & Armsby, C. C. Use of high-flow nasal cannula support in the emergency department reduces the need for intubation in pediatric acute respiratory insufficiency. Pediatr Emerg Care, 28(11), 1117-1123.

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1 Response to Blowing noses: High Flow Nasal Cannula

  1. Derek says:

    I have utilized HFNC to aid a few of my patient’s in respiratory distress with good effect. Today, I had a patient with CHF exacerbation, being transferred to tertiary care, was on CPAP at 10 and only maintaining SpO2 of 85%. I titrated the PEEP to 12 and still no change. The patient’s lungs had course crackles throughout bilaterally and had a noticeable increased work of breathing.

    I left the CPAP in place and flowed 15lpm via the capnography cannula already in place and quickly I had an SpO2 that reached 97%. The average throughout the patient encounter was 92-94% on HFNC which with CPAP alone was only 85%. I have had similar results in other patient’s I tried HFNC on.

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