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Aust Crit Care. 2010 May;23(2):71-80. doi: 10.1016/j.aucc.2010.03.003. Epub 2010 Apr 7.

Clinical application of ventilator modes: Ventilatory strategies for lung protection.

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Lawrence S. Bloomberg Limited Term Professor in Critical Care Nursing, Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.



Identification of the mortality reducing effect of lung protective ventilation using low tidal volumes and pressure limitation is one of the biggest advances in the application of mechanical ventilation. Yet studies continue to demonstrate low adoption of this style of ventilation. Critical care nurses in Australia and New Zealand have a high level of responsibility and autonomy for mechanical ventilation and weaning practices and therefore require in-depth knowledge of ventilator technology, its clinical application and the current evidence for effective ventilation strategies.


To present an overview of current knowledge and research relating to lung protective ventilation.


A multidatabase literature search using the terms protective ventilation, open lung, high frequency oscillatory ventilation, airway pressure release ventilation, and weaning.


Based on clinical trials and physiological evidence lung protective strategies using low tidal volumes and moderate levels of PEEP have been recommended as strategies to prevent tidal alveolar collapse and overdistension in patients with ALI/ARDS. Evidence now suggests these strategies may also be beneficial in patients with normal lungs. Lung protective ventilation may be applied with either volume or pressure-controlled ventilation. Pressure-controlled ventilation allows regulation over injurious peak inspiratory pressures; however no study has identified the superiority of pressure-controlled ventilation over low tidal volume strategies using volume-control. Other lung protective ventilation strategies include moderate to high positive-end expiratory pressure, recruitment manoeuvres, high frequency oscillatory ventilation, and airway pressure release ventilation though definitive trials identifying consistently improved patient outcomes are still needed. No ventilation strategy can be more lung protective than the timely discontinuation of mechanical ventilation. Despite the above recommendations, evidence suggests the decision to commence weaning and attempt extubation continue to be delayed. Critical care nurses play a vital role in the recognition of patients capable of spontaneous breathing and ready for extubation. Organisational interventions such as weaning protocols as well as computerised weaning systems may have less effect when nurses are able to manage weaning processes effectively.


Lung protective ventilatory strategies are not consistently applied and weaning and extubation continue to be delayed. Critical care nurses need to establish a strong knowledge base to promote effective and appropriate management of patients requiring mechanical ventilation.

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