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Eur J Pediatr. 2001 Sep;160(9):556-60.

Nasopharyngeal oxygen therapy produces positive end-expiratory pressure in infants.

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Intensive Care Unit, Royal Children's Hospital, Parkville, Victoria, Australia.


The World Health Organisation recommends nasopharyngeal catheters as a safe and efficient method of oxygen administration in infants. However, little is known about the mechanisms of the improvement in oxygenation. The aim of the present study was to determine whether nasopharyngeal oxygen therapy produces positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP). Nine spontaneously breathing infants (median age 13 months, range 10 days to 20 months) after heart surgery were investigated. All patients had normal pulmonary blood flow at the time of the study (Qp:Qs=1:1). Oxygen (oxygen fraction 1.0) was delivered by an 8 F catheter inserted into the nasopharynx (tip just visible below the soft palate). The pulmonary mechanics were analysed using a single compartment model of the respiratory system. Oesophageal pressure (Pes) at end-expiration, dynamic lung compliance (C(L)) and resistance (R(L)), minute ventilation, PaCO2 and PaO2 were measured at baseline without a nasopharyngeal catheter or oxygen, and at oxygen flows of 0.5 l/min, 1.0 l/min and 2.0 l/min. All the flows generated significant increases in PEEP. Mean difference in PEEP (SD, paired t-test versus baseline): 1.6 cm H2O (1.4, P=0.008) with 0.5 l/min of oxygen; 2.8 cm H2O (2.7, P=0.014) with 1.0 l/min of oxygen; and 4.0 cm H2O (2.9, P = 0.004) with 2.0 l/min of oxygen. There was a significant correlation between all the nasopharyngeal flows (in ml/kg per min) and the generated PEEP (P<0.001) and between the C(L) values and the generated PEEP (P < 0.05). There was no significant difference in PaCO2 and R(L). Minute ventilation was significantly less with nasopharyngeal oxygen than at baseline. As expected, PaO2 increased significantly with increasing oxygen flows.


Administration of oxygen through an 8 F nasopharyngeal catheter at flow rates recommended by the World Health Organisation (0.5 l/min in newborns, 1.0 l/min in infants) produces moderate amounts of positive end-expiratory pressure. The levels achieved may contribute to an improvement in oxygenation by altering the visco-elastic properties of the lung.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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