Skip to main content

Volume 3 Supplement 1


High flow nasal cannula improves lung aeration and enhances CO2 removal in hypoxemic critically ill patients


High-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) is a non-invasive respiratory support increasingly applied to hypoxemic acute respiratory failure patients. HFNC decreases dyspnea, improves oxygenation and enhances patient's comfort.


In the present study, to identify the mechanisms underlying the clinical benefits associated with HFNC, we measured in hypoxemic non-intubated critically ill patients the effects of HFNC on lung aeration, patient's effort and CO2 washout efficiency.


We performed a prospective randomized cross-over study on hypoxemic (PaO2/FiO2 ≤300 mmHg) non-intubated patients admitted to Intensive Care Unit of San Gerardo Hospital. We delivered the same air/oxygen mix by HFNC (40 L/min) and facial mask for 20 minutes by random order. Continuous recordings of lung aeration and minute ventilation by Electrical Impedance Tomography (EIT) and of inspiratory effort by esophageal pressure swings (ΔPes) were obtained.


We enrolled 15 patients (10 male), aged 57 ± 16 years old. Compared to standard facial mask, HFNC significantly improved PaO2/FiO2 values (184 ± 53 vs. 130 ± 34 mmHg, p < 0.001). End-expiratory lung volume (867 ± 488 a.u. vs. baseline, p < 0.001) and central venous pressure (6 ± 4 vs. 4 ± 4 mmHg, p < 0.01) increased, too, possibly indicating positive end-expiratory pressure effect. HFNC decreased respiratory rate (22 ± 5 vs. 24 ± 4 bpm, p < 0.001), as well as ΔPes (8.7 ± 3.3 vs. 10.4 ± 3.7 cmH2O, p < 0.01). Finally, corrected minute ventilation (i.e., MV*PaCO2/40 mmHg, with lower values indicating increased efficiency of CO2 removal) decreased (p < 0.001) (Figure 1).

Figure 1
figure 1

Corrected minute ventilation.

Patients with baseline ΔPes higher than median value (i.e., >8.4 cmH2O, indicating higher inspiratory effort) reduced, by application of HFNC, both respiratory rate (-4 ± 3 vs. -1 ± 1 bpm, p = 0.02) and ΔPes swings (-24 ± 17% vs. -5 ± 16%, p < 0.05) most consistently in comparison to patients with lower effort, while oxygenation improved less (+37 ± 22 vs. +79 ± 44 mmHg, p = 0.03).


In hypoxemic critically ill patients, HFNC might improve oxygenation and patient's comfort by lung expansion and enhanced CO2 clearance. Patients with higher inspiratory effort might experience the larger benefit in terms of decreased effort, but higher flows might be needed to optimize oxygenation.

Grant Acknowledgement

Institutional; Fisher & Paykel Healthcare provided unrestricted research grant to support, in part, the study.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Open Access  This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made.

The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder.

To view a copy of this licence, visit

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Mauri, T., Eronia, N., Turrini, C. et al. High flow nasal cannula improves lung aeration and enhances CO2 removal in hypoxemic critically ill patients. ICMx 3 (Suppl 1), A176 (2015).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • DOI: