A grenade was thrown this week with the publication of the Australian experience comparing three epochs of 1991-92, 1997 and 2005 in terms of long term respiratory outcomes. The paper was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine; Ventilation in Extremely Preterm Infants and Respiratory Function at 8 Years. This journal alone gives “street cred” to any publication and it didn’t take long for other news agencies to notice such as Med Page Today. The claim of the paper is that the modern cohort has fared worse in the long run. This has got to be alarming for anyone reading this! As the authors point out, over the years that are being compared rates of antenatal steroid use increased, surfactant was introduced and its use became more widespread and a trend to using non-invasive ventilation began. All of these things have been associated with better short term outcomes. Another trend was declining use of post-natal steroids after 2001 when alarms were raised about the potential harm of administering such treatments.
Where then does this leave us?
I suppose the first thing to do is to look at the study and see if they were on the mark. To evaluate lung function the study looked at markers of obstructive lung disease at 8 years of age in survivors from these time periods. All babies recruited were born between 22-27 completed weeks so were clearly at risk of long term injury. Measurements included FEV1, FVC, FVC:FEV1 and FEF 25-75%. Of the babies measured the only two significant findings were in the FEV1 and ratio of FEV1:FVC. The former showed a drop off comparing 1997 to 2005 while the latter was worse in 2005 than both epochs.
This should indeed cause alarm. Babies born in a later period when we thought that we were doing the right things fared worse. The authors wonder if perhaps a strategy of using more CPAP may be a possible issue. Could the avoidance of intubation and dependence on CPAP for longer periods actually contribute to injury in some way? An alternative explanation might be that the use of continuous oximetry is to blame. Might the use of nasal cannulae with temporary rises in O2 expose the infant to oxygen toxicity?
There may be a problem here though
Despite everyone’s best efforts survival and/or BPD as an outcome has not changed much over the years. That might be due to a shift from more children dying to more children living with BPD. Certainly in our own centre we have seen changes in BPD at 36 weeks over time and I suspect other centres have as well. With concerted efforts many centres report better survival of the smallest infants and with that they may survive with BPD. The other significant factor here is after the extreme fear of the early 2000s, use of postnatal steroids fell off substantially. This study was no different in that comparing the epochs, postnatal glucocorticoid use fell from 40 and 46% to 23%. One can’t ignore the possibility that the sickest of the infants in the 2005 cohort would have spent much more time on the ventilator that their earlier counterparts and this could have an impact on the long term lung function.
Another question that I don’t think was answered in the paper is the distribution of babies at each gestational age. Although all babies were born between 22-27 weeks gestational age, do we know if there was a skewing of babies who survived to more of the earlier gestations as more survived? We know that in the survivors the GA was not different so that is reassuring but did the sickest possible die more frequently leaving healthier kids in the early cohorts?
This bigger issue interestingly is not mentioned in the paper. Looking at the original cohorts there were 438 in the first two year cohort of which 203 died yielding a survival of 54% while in 1997 survival increased to 70% and in 2005 it was 65%. I can’t help but wonder if the drop in survival may have reflected a few more babies at less than 24 weeks being born and in addition the holding of post natal steroids leading to a few more deaths. Either way, there are enough questions about the cohorts not really being the same that I think we have to take the conclusions of this paper with a grain of salt.
It is a sensational suggestion and one that I think may garner some press indeed. I for one believe strongly though as I see our rates of BPD falling with the strategies we are using that when my patients return at 8 years for a visit they will be better off due to the strategies we are using in the current era. Having said that we do have so much more to learn and I look forward to better outcomes with time!
I know how to bag a baby. At least I think I do. Providing PPV with a bag-valve mask is something that you are taught in NRP and is likely one of the first skills you learned in the NICU. We are told to squeeze the bag at a rate of 40-60 breaths a minute. According to the Laerdal website, the volume of the preterm silicone bag that we typically use is 240 mL. Imagine then that you are wanting to ventilate a baby who is 1 kg. How much should you compress the bag if you wish to delivery 5 mL/kg. Five ml out of a 240 mL bag is not a lot of squeeze is it? Think about that the next time you find yourself squeezing one. You might then say but what about a t-piece resuscitator? A good choice option as well but how much volume are you delivering if you set the initial pressures at 20/5 for example? That would depend on the compliance of the lung of course. The greater the compliance the more volume would go in. Would it be 5 mL, 10 ml or even 2.5 mL based on the initial setting? Hard to say as it really depends on your seal and the compliance of the lung at the pressure you have chosen. If only we had a device that could deliver a preset volume just like on a ventilator with a volume guarantee setting!
Why is this holy grail so important?
It has been over 30 years since the importance of volutrauma was demonstrated in a rabbit model. Hernandez LA et al published Chest wall restriction limits high airway pressure-induced lung injury in young rabbits. The study used three models to demonstrate the impact of volume as opposed to pressure on injuring the lung of preterm rabbits. Group 1 were rabbit ventilated at pressures of 15/30/45 cm H2O for one hour, group 2 rabbits with a cast around their thorax to limit volume expansion and group 3 sets of excised lungs with no restriction to distension based on the applied pressures. As you might expect, limitation of over distension by the plaster cast led the greatest reduction in injury (measured as microvascular permeability) with the excised lungs being the worst. In doing this study the authors demonstrated the importance of over distension and made the case for controlling volume more than pressure when delivering breaths to avoid excessive tidal volume and resultant lung injury.
The “Next Step” Volume Ventilator BVM
Perhaps I am becoming a fan of the Edmonton group. In 2015 they published A Novel Prototype Neonatal Resuscitator That Controls Tidal Volume and Ventilation Rate: A Comparative Study of Mask Ventilation in a Newborn Manikin. The device is tablet based and as described, rather than setting a PIP to deliver a Vt, a rate is set along with a volume to be delivered with a peep in this case set at +5. This study compared 5 different methods of delivering PPV to a 1 kg preterm manikin. The first was a standard self inflating bag, the next three different t-piece resuscitators and then the Next Step. For the first four the goal was to deliver a pressure of 20/5 at a rate of 40-60 breaths per minute. A test lung was connected to the manikin such that each device was used for a one minute period at three different levels of compliance (0.5 ml/cmH2O, 1.0 ml/cmH2O and then 2.0 ml/cm H2O representing increasing compliance. The goal of the study was to compare the methods in terms of delivering a volume of 5 mL to this 1 kg model lung. The order in which the devices were used was randomized for the 25 participants in the study who were all certified in NRP and included some Neonatologists.
Some Concerning Findings
As I said at the beginning, we all like to think we know how to ventilate a newborn with BVM. The results though suggest that as compliance increases our ability to control how much volume we deliver to a lung based on a best guess for pressures needed is lacking. One caveat here is that the pressures set on the t-piece resucitators were unchanged during the 1 minute trials but then again how often during one minute would we change settings from a starting point of 20/5?
Without putting in all the confidence intervals I can tell you that the Next Step was the tightest. What you notice immediately (or at least I did) was that no matter what the compliance, the self inflating bag delivers quite an excessive volume even in experienced hands regardless of compliance. At low compliance the t-piece resuscitators do an admirable job as 5-6 ml/kg of delivered Vt is reasonable but as compliance improves the volumes increase substantially. It is worth pointing out that at low compliance the Next Step was unable to deliver the prescribed Vt but knowing that if you had a baby who wasn’t responding to ventilation I would imagine you would then try a setting of 6 ml/kg to compensate much like you would increase the pressure on a typical device. How might these devices do in a 29 week infant for example with better compliance than say a 24 week infant? You can’t help but wonder how many babies are given minutes of excessive Vt after birth during PPV with the traditional pressure limited BVM setup and then down the road how many have BPD in part because of that exposure.
I wanted to share this piece as I think volume resuscitation will be the future. This is just a prototype or at least back then it was. Interestingly in terms of satisfaction of use, the Next Step was rated by the participants in the study as being the easiest and most comfortable to use of all the devices studied. Adding this finding to the accuracy of the delivered volume and I think we could have a winner.
This is becoming “all the rage” as they say. I first heard about the strategy of feeding while on CPAP from colleagues in Calgary. They had created the SINC * (Safe Individualized Feeding Competence) program to provide an approach to safely introducing feeding to those who were still requiring CPAP. As news of this approach spread a great deal of excitement ensued as one can only imagine that in these days when attainment of oral feeding is a common reason for delaying discharge, could getting an early start shorten hospital stay? I could describe what they found with the implementation of this strategy but I couldn’t do it the same justice as the presenter of the data did at a recent conference in Winnipeg. For the slide set you can find them here. As you can imagine, in this experience out of Calgary though they did indeed find that wonderful accomplishment of shorter hospital stays in the SINC group. We have been so impressed with the results and the sensibility of it all that we in fact have embraced the concept and introduced it here in both of our units. The protocol for providing this approach is the following.
I have to admit, while I have only experienced this approach for a short time the results do seem to be impressive. Although anecdotal a parent even commented the other day that she felt that SINC was instrumental in getting her baby’s feeding going! With all this excitement around this technique I was thrown a little off kilter when a paper came out suggesting we should put a full stop to feeding on CPAP!
What caused my spirits to dampen? This study enrolled preterm infants who were still on CPAP at ≥ 34 weeks PMA and were taking over 50% of required feeding volumes by NG feeding. The goal was to look at 15 patients who were being fed on CPAP +5 and with a mean FiO2 of 25% (21-37%) using video fluoroscopic swallowing studies to determine whether such patients aspirate when being fed. The researchers became concerned when each of the first seven patients demonstrated abnormalities of swallowing function indicating varying degrees of aspiration. As such they took each patient off CPAP in the radiology suite and replaced it with 1 l/min NP to achieve acceptable oxygen saturations and repeated the study again. The results of the two swallow studies showed remarkable differences in risk to the patient and as such the recruitment of further patients was stopped due to concerns of safety and a firm recommendation of avoiding feeding while on CPAP was made.
Table 2. Percentage of all swallows identified with swallowing dysfunction
Variable Mean ± s.d.
Mean ± s.d.
Mean ± s.d.
Mild pen. %
Deep pen. %
Nasopharyngeal reflux %
Taking these results at face value it would seem that we should put an abrupt halt to feeding while on CPAP but as the saying goes the devil is in the details…
CPAP Using Ram Cannulae
Let me start off by saying that I don’t have any particular fight to pick with the RAM cannulae. They serve a purpose and that is they allow CPAP to be delivered with a very simple set of prongs and avoid the hats, straps and such of more traditional CPAP devices. We have used them as temporary CPAP delivery when moving a patient from one area to another. As the authors state the prongs are sized in order to ensure the presence of a leak. This has to do with the need to provide a way for the patient to exhale when nasal breathing. Prongs that are too loose have a large leak and may not deliver adequate pressure while those that are too tight may inadvertently deliver high pressure and therefore impose significant work of breathing on the patient. Even with appropriate sizing these prongs do not allow one to exhale against a low pressure or flow as is seen with the “fluidic flip” employed with the infant flow interface. With the fluidic flip, exhalation occurs against very little resistance thereby reducing work of breathing which is not present with the use of the RAM cannula.
Trying to feed an infant who is working against a constant flow as delivered by the RAM cannulae is bound to cause problems. I don’t think it should be a surprise to find that trying to feed while struggling to breathe increases the risk of aspiration. Similarly, under treating a patient by placing them on nasal prongs would lead to increased work of breathing as while you may provide the needed O2 it is at lower lung volumes. Increasing work of breathing places infants at increased risk of aspiration. That is what I would take from this study. Interestingly, looking at the slide set from Calgary they did in fact use CPAP with the fluidic flip. Smart people they are. It would be too easy to embrace the results of this study and turn your nose to the SINC approach to feeding on CPAP. Perhaps somewhere out there someone will read this and think twice about abandoning the SINC approach and a baby will be better for it.
* SINC algorithm and picture of the fluidic flip courtesy of Stacey Dalgleish and the continued work of Alberta Health Services
This may sound familiar as I wrote about this topic in the last year but the previous post was restricted to infants who were under 1000g. High Flow Nasal Cannula be careful out there had a main message that suggested the combined outcome of BPD or death was more prevalent when HFNC is used alone or with CPAP than when CPAP is used alone. The question remains though whether this applies to larger infants. Without looking at the evidence for that combined outcome most people would say there is unlikely to be a difference. Larger more mature babies have a much lower risk of BPD or death so proponents of HFNC would say it is simpler to use and helps prevent nasal breakdown as well. The question remains as to whether all outcomes are the same in larger infants and that is the point of this post.
A Non-Inferiority Trial
First off it is important to understand what this type of trial is. The first requirement is that the two treatments have both been compared to a placebo and found to be both effective. Once you establish that you have a choice between two treatment options then you eliminate the placebo and compare them head to head. What you are looking for in this type of trial is to determine not whether one is better than the other but that there is no difference in a clinical outcome of interest. If you find no difference then the next step is to look at other outcomes that might be of interest and see if there are any benefits to picking one versus the other. In the case of CPAP vs HNFC, if a non-inferiority trial showed no difference in an important outcome such as length of stay but nasal breakdown was less with HFNC it might lead a unit to use HFNC for their infants. Okay, now that we have that cleared up we can move on to an actual study examining this very subject.
This was an interesting study with a great name (The HIPSTER trial) that enrolled infants > 28 weeks and 0 days with none of the infants receiving surfactant but either being randomized to HFNC or CPAP after delivery. These infants were your typical modern day cohort of babies who may avoid intubation and surfactant by establishing FRC early with positive pressure applied to the nose through one of these devices. The end point for the study was treatment failure within 72 hours. If an infant failed in the HFNC they could have a trial of CPAP whereas in the CPAP group they were intubated. For each infant in the HFNC group flow was set from 6-8 l/min and for CPAP 6-8 cmH2O.
Treatment was considered to have failed if an infant receiving maximal support (high-flow therapy at a gas flow of 8 liters per minute or CPAP at a pressure of 8 cm of water) met one or more of the following criteria:
FiO2 of 0.4 or higher
Arterial or free flowing cap gas with a pH of 7.2 or less plus a pCO2 > 60 mm Hg obtained at least 1 hour after starting treatment
Two or more episodes of apnea requiring positive-pressure ventilation within a 24-hour period or six or more episodes requiring any intervention within a 6-hour period.
Infants with an urgent need for intubation and mechanical ventilation.
So what happened?
The trial randomized 583 infants (278 HFNC, 286 CPAP) but was halted by the data and safety monitoring committee after an analysis of the first 515 revealed that the outcome was worse in the HFNC group (25.5% failure rate vs 13.3 for CPAP). Interestingly treatment failures were more common in babies below and above 32 weeks so it was not just the smallest infants who failed.
Another interesting finding was that the most common reason for treatment failure was criteria 1 (FiO2 > 40%) while intubation was higher for all infants but did not reach statistical significance. Curiously what did reach a significant difference was criteria #4 (18.4% urgent intubations in the CPAP group vs 5.6% in the HFNC group). You might be tempted to therefore ponder which is worse, a little O2 or being intubated but you need to recall the trial design which was set up to provide this kind of result. If you failed HFNC you were placed on CPAP whereas if you failed CPAP you were intubated. In the HFNC group, 78 infants were deemed to have failed but 28 of them were in fact “rescued by CPAP”. It therefore isn’t a fair comparison when it comes to urgent intubation since if you failed CPAP there wasn’t another option.
Not a total loss
Nasal trauma was indeed much lower in the HFNC group, occurring only 8.3% vs 18.5% of the time with CPAP. Pneumothorax was also found to be significantly different with none of the patients in the HFNC group having that complication vs 2.1% in the CPAP group. What this study tells us is that as a primary modality to treat newborns with RDS who have not received surfactant it is preferable to use CPAP in the first 72 hours. Some of you may say it might not say that at all but consider the impact of having more babies exposed to high FiO2. We know from other studies that high FiO2 can be quite damaging to preterm infants and this study was certainly not powered to look at all those important outcomes such as ROP, PVL and BPD. The authors report them and found no difference but without adequate power to show a difference I wouldn’t take much comfort in those findings.
I think were things may settle out though is what to do in more mature infants. There is no question that for those on chronic respiratory support there is some risk of nasal breakdown. Although I don’t have much experience with HFNC I would think that for the older patient who either already has BPD at 36 weeks or is close to that point but reliant on +4 or +5 CPAP that HFNC might help “give them a break”. As such I don’t see this as a total loss but rather an option to try when CPAP for whatever reason is not tolerated.
As a primary therapy for non-invasive management RDS I will keep my CPAP for all babies thank you.
As the saying goes the devil is in the details. For some years now many centres worldwide have been publishing trials pertaining to high flow nasal cannulae (HFNC) particularly as a weaning strategy for extubation. The appeal is no doubt partly in the simplicity of the system and the perception that it is less invasive than CPAP. Add to this that many centres have found less nasal breakdown with the implementation of HFNC as standard care and you can see where the popularity for this device has come from.
This year a contact of mine Dominic Wilkinson@NeonatalEthics on twitter (if you don’t follow him I would advise having a look!) published the following cochrane review, Highflownasalcannula for respiratory support in preterm infants. The review as with most cochrane systematic reviews is complete and comes to a variety of important conclusions based on 6 studies including 934 infants comparing use of HFNC to CPAP.
1. No differences in the primary outcomes of death (typical RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.43 to 1.36; 5 studies, 896 infants) or CLD.
2. After extubation to HFNC no difference in the rate of treatment failure (typical RR 1.21, 95% CI 0.95 to 1.55; 5 studies, 786 infants) or reintubation (typical RR 0.91, 95% CI 0.68 to 1.20; 6 studies, 934 infants).
3. Infants randomised to HFNC had reduced nasal trauma (typical RR 0.64, 95% CI 0.51 to 0.79; typical risk difference (RD) -0.14, 95% CI -0.20 to -0.08; 4 studies, 645 infants).
4. Small reduction in the rate of pneumothorax (typical RR 0.35, 95% CI 0.11 to 1.06; typical RD -0.02, 95% CI -0.03 to -0.00; 5 studies 896 infants) in infants treated with HFNC but the RR crosses one so this may be a trend at best.
If one was to do a quick search for the evidence and found this review with these findings it would be very tempting to jump on the bandwagon. Looking at the review a little closer though there is one line that I hope many do not miss and I was happy to see Dominic include it.
“Subgroup analysis found no difference in the rate of the primary outcomes between HFNC and CPAP in preterm infants in different gestational age subgroups, though there were only small numbers of extremely preterm and late preterm infants.”
In his conclusion he further states:
Further evidence is also required for evaluating the safety and efficacy of HFNC in extremely preterm and mildly preterm subgroups, and for comparing different HFNC devices.
With so few ELBW infants included and with these infants being at highest risk of mortality and BPD our centre has been reluctant to adopt this mode of respiratory support in the absence of solid evidence that it is equally effective to CPAP in these smallest infants. A big thank you to our Respiratory Therapy Clinical Specialist for harping on this point over the years as the temptation to adopt has been strong as other centres turn to this strategy.
Might Not Be So Safe After All
Now do not take what I am about to say as a slight against my twitter friend. The evidence to date points to exactly what he and his other coauthors concluded but with the release of an important paper in May by Taka DK et al, I believe caution is needed when it comes to our ELBW infants.
This paper adds to the body of literature on the topic as it truly focuses on the outcome of infants < 1000g. While this study is retrospective in nature it does cover a five year period and examines important outcomes of interest to this population.
The primary outcome in this case was death or BPD and whether HFNC was used alone or with CPAP, this was more frequent than when CPAP was used alone. Other important findings were the need for multiple and longer courses of ventilation in those who received at least some HFNC. In these times of overburdened health care systems with goals of improving patient flow, it is also worth noting that there was a significant prolongation of length of stay with use of HFNC or HFNC and CPAP.
One interesting observation was that the group that fared the worst across the board was the combination of CPAP and HFNC rather than HFNC alone.
HFNC +/- CPAP (1546)
CPAP d (median, IQR)
HFNC d (median, IQR)
HFNC +/- CPAP
BPD or death %
Multiple ventiation courses
More than 3 vent courses
Ventilator d (median, IQR)
I believe the finding may be explained by the problem inherent with retrospective studies. This is not a study in which patients were randomized to either CPAP, HFNC or CPAP w/HFNC. If that were the case one would expect lung pathologies and severity of illness to even ou,t such that differences between groups might be explained by the difference in treatments. In this study though we are looking though the rearview mirror so to speak. How could we account for the combination being worse than the HFNC alone? I suspect it relates to the severity of lung disease. The babies who were placed on HFNC and did well on it might have had less severe chronic changes. What might be said about those that had the combination? Well, one could postulate that there might be some who were extubated to HFNC and collapsed needing escalation to CPAP and then failing that therapy were reintubated. Another explanation could be those babies who were placed on CPAP after extubation and transitioned before their lungs were ready to HFNC may have failed and lost FRC thereby going back to CPAP and possibly intubation. Exposure in either circumstance to HFNC would therefore put them at risk of further positive pressure ventilation and subsequent further lung injury. The babies who could tolerate transition to HFNC without CPAP might be intermediary in their outcomes (as they were found to be) as they lost FRC but were able to tolerate it but consumed more calories leaving less for growth and repair of damaged tissue leading to prolonged need for support.
Either way, the use of HFNC was found to lead to worse outcomes and in the ELBW infant should be avoided as routine practice pending the results of a prospective RCT on the subject.
Is it a total ban though?
As with many treatments that one should not consider standard of care there may be some situations where there may be benefit. The ELBW infant with nasal breakdown from CPAP that despite excellent nursing and RRT attention continues to demonstrate tissue damage is one patient that could be considered. The cosmetic implications and potential for surgical correction at a later date would be one reason to consider a trial of HFNC but only in the patient that was close to being able to come off CPAP. In the end I believe that if a ELBW infant needs non invasive pressure support then it should be with CPAP but as there saying goes there may be a right time and a place for even this modality.
What follows is a local news story that I had the pleasure of being involved in. I am posting on the blog not to show off in the least but rather highlight how true collaboration between professionals (who on the surface might not seem to be related) can accomplish incredible things. The strategy employed in this case had not been described before in the literature and thus it is my hope that this post may be shared at your local institutions and in the event a child with a cleft lip and palate is born and needs CPAP this appliance could be utilized.
If you would like further information on this approach please email me at [email protected] and I would be happy to provide you with assistance. The link to obtain the abstract and from there if you have personal or facility access to the full article can be found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25794910
Within the last year a team of professionals from Dentistry, Neonatology and Respiratory Therapy came together to solve an unusual problem. A baby had been born prematurely at 26 weeks gestational age and less than 2 lbs and relied on a ventilator to help her breathe. As many of these children age, their reliance on a ventilator becomes less and they are changed to a non-invasive level of support called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). This consists of a mask put over the nose, which passes air into the lung thereby keeping a babies lungs inflated while we wait for continued development of their lungs. In this case however this premature infant had been born with a complete unilateral cleft lip and palate. Having this cleft created a leak, which makes the use of CPAP very challenging. The flow of air leaks out through the cleft instead of getting to the lungs to keep them inflated. One day, one of our respiratory therapists John Minski asked the Neonatologist on service (Dr. Michael Narvey) whether we could use a 3D scanning and printing technology to create an appliance that would seal the palate and allow pressure to be maintained in the lungs through the flow of air in the nose. Dr. Narvey had not heard of such a strategy being employed before but consulted Dr. Igor Pesun from the Faculty of Dentistry for an opinion and what came out of this discussion was a novel concept that we believe is the first of its kind.
A dental obturator was created to seal the palatal defect. A child who is as small as Michaela, made the use of current intra oral scanning technology not possible. An impression using conventional dental materials was used to record the anatomy of the palate. A model was made and used to fabricate the obturator that was connected to the CPAP tubing.
Over a period of 4 days the obturator was used to maintain a palatal seal and allowed for sufficient pressure to be maintained to manage the child off the ventilator. After this point she was deemed ready to transition to being off CPAP.
The collaboration between these services was instrumental in taking an idea from concept to reality. We were able to demonstrate that a premature infant, who previously would have been forced to remain on a ventilator until they were ready to come off breathing support completely, could be managed with a novel airway appliance. This type of approach has never been tried before in the literature and exemplifies some of the creative and innovative collaborative work happening at the Health Sciences Centre. Finally it serves as a shining example of how different seemingly unrelated specialties can come together within the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba.