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J Chin Med Assoc. 2012 Nov;75(11):551-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jcma.2012.08.001. Epub 2012 Oct 9.

Neonatal air leak syndrome and the role of high-frequency ventilation in its prevention.

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Institute of Emergency and Critical Care Medicine, National Yang-Ming University School of Medicine, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC.


Air leak syndrome includes pulmonary interstitial emphysema, pneumothorax, pneumomediastinum, pneumopericardium, pneumoperitoneum, subcutaneous emphysema, and systemic air embolism. The most common cause of air leak syndrome in neonates is inadequate mechanical ventilation of the fragile and immature lungs. The incidence of air leaks in newborns is inversely related to the birth weight of the infants, especially in very-low-birth-weight and meconium-aspirated infants. When the air leak is asymptomatic and the infant is not mechanically ventilated, there is usually no specific treatment. Emergent needle aspiration and/or tube drainage are necessary in managing tension pneumothorax or pneumopericardium with cardiac tamponade. To prevent air leak syndrome, gentle ventilation with low pressure, low tidal volume, low inspiratory time, high rate, and judicious use of positive end expiratory pressure are the keys to caring for mechanically ventilated infants. Both high-frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) and high-frequency jet ventilation (HFJV) can provide adequate gas exchange using extremely low tidal volume and supraphysiologic rate in neonates with acute pulmonary dysfunction, and they are considered to have the potential to reduce the risks of air leak syndrome in neonates. However, there is still no conclusive evidence that HFOV or HFJV can help to reduce new air leaks in published neonatal clinical trials. In conclusion, neonatal air leaks may present as a thoracic emergency requiring emergent intervention. To prevent air leak syndrome, gentle ventilations are key to caring for ventilated infants. There is insufficient evidence showing the role of HFOV and HFJV in the prevention or reduction of new air leaks in newborn infants, so further investigation will be necessary for future applications.

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