To be sure there are fans of both HFNC and CPAP out there. I have often heard from other Neonatologists that they use HFNC and find positive results while other centres refuse to use it in favour of the tried and true CPAP. Turning to the literature you will find some conflicting results with some studies suggesting equity and others more recently favouring CPAP. There has been speculation as to why one would be superior to the other and now we appear to have some answers as to where the differences lie.
A Physiologic Study
Liew et al published Physiological effects of high-flow nasal cannula therapy in preterm infants this month in an elegant study of 40 infants. The study was fairly simple in design either randomizing infants <37 weeks to starting with nCPAP +6 and then transitioning to 8 l/min HFNC followed by stepwise reductions of 1 l/min until 2 l/min was reached or the reverse, starting with 2 l/min and working their way up and then transitioning to nCPAP+6. All infants were on one or the other modality at the start and were all at least 3 days old, they were randomized to one or the other arm regardless of where they started off. Physiologic measurements were taken at each step including the following:
Mv -Minute ventilation
pEEP – nasopharyngeal end-expiratory pressure
pEECO2 -nasopharyngeal end-expiratory CO2
RR – respiratory rate;
SpO2 – oxygen saturation
TCCO2 – transcutaneous CO2
Vt – tidal volume
A Fabian device was used to deliver either HFNC or CPAP at the different flows for all patients.
The authors certainly found some interesting results that I think shed some light on why comparisons of HFNC and CPAP have been so inconsistent.
Table 2 contains the results of the study and I will point out the main findings below.
1. Flow matters – Compared to nCPAP+6 which is fairly consistent flows below 6 l/min deliver pEEP that is below 6 cm H2O.
2. Keep the mouth shut – With CPAP whether the mouth is open or closed the Fabian device delivers +6 cm H2O. As you can see from the table, when the mouth is open transmitted pressures drop off substantially. The infant put on a flow of even 6-8 l/min of HFNC sees pressures less than +6 consistently.
3. As flows increase end expiratory CO2 decreases. HFNC seems to help wash out CO2
4. Low flow rates on HFNC do not seem to help with ventilation as much as higher flow rates. In order to maintain Mv these infants at 2 l/min flow become tachypneic. The low pressures produced likely cause some atelectasis and hence tachypnea.
Size matters! Beware of excessive pressures.
An additional finding of this study was that on “multiple linear regression, flow rate, mouth position, current weight and gestation but not prong-to-nares ratio significantly predicted pEEP and account for a significant amount of its variance (F(4431)=143.768, p<0.0001), R2=0.572, R2=adjusted 0.568).” Essentially, infants under 1000g in particular could see pEEP levels as high as 13 cm H2O with flows of 8 l/min. The variability in transmitted pressures with HFNC is shown nicely in this figure from the study.
As flows increase above 6 l/min the actual pressures delivered become less reliable.
Looking at this data, it becomes evident why HFNC may be failing in its attempt to dethrone nCPAP. In order to achieve higher pressures and provide comparable distending pressure to nCPAP you need higher flows. With higher flows though come the problem of greater variability in delivered pressure. While the average pressure delivered may be equivalent or even higher than a CPAP of +6, in some infants (especially those below 1000g) one may be delivering significantly higher pressures than intended which may help with oxygenation and preventing intubation but others may be seeing far less than needed.
What it comes down to is that nCPAP is better at delivering a consistent amount of pressure. Studies using lower flows of HFNC likely failed to show superiority to CPAP as they just didn’t deliver enough pressure. An example of this was the study by Roberts CT et al Nasal High-Flow Therapy for Primary Respiratory Support in Preterm Infants, in which flows of 6-8 l/min were used. Other studies using higher pressures could have been problematic due to open mouths, or larger babies not receiving as much benefit.
I am not saying that we should throw out HFNC entirely however. Depending on the unit you practice in you might not be able to use CPAP but HFNC may be allowed. If you had to choose between no support or HFNC I would likely go with the HFNC. For me at least, if I want to delivery reliable pressures in my tertiary care NICU I will be calling for the CPAP.
I have written about non-traditional methods of providing surfactant to newborns previously. The practice of intubating a preterm infant to administer surfactant and leaving the endotracheal tube in with a slow wean of ventilation is mostly a thing of the past (at least in my units). Strategies have evolved and have seen the development of the INSURE technique, LISA methods, use of an LMA to delivery surfactant and even simple deposition into the pharynx all with variable success.
Poractant alfa at 200 mg/kg was used in this study and delivered via aerosolization using a vibrating membrane called the eFlow. The authors chose to look at infants from 29 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks at birth and stratified them into two groups of 29 0/7 to 31 6/7 and 32 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks. They estimated a need for 70 babies based on an anticipated failure rate of 30% in the control group vs 5% in the treatment group. Unfortunately, due to several reasons the study was only able to recruit 64 babies for randomization before being stopped due to the recruitment issues. The design of the study included adequate blinding with a sham procedure and there were predefined “failure criteria” necessitating intubation at the outset of the study. These criteria are acceptable to me as they are similar enough to my own practice and were:
1. FiO2 >0.35 over more than 30 min OR FiO2 >0.45 at
2. More than four apnoeas/hour OR two apnoeas requiring bag
and mask ventilation.
3. Two capillary blood gas samples with a pH <7.2 and partial pressure of carbon dioxide >65 mm Hg (or partial pressure
of carbon dioxide in arterial blood (PaCO2) >60 mm Hg if
arterial blood gas sample).
4. Intubation deemed necessary by the attending physician.
What did they find?
The primary outcome CPAP failure within 72 hours of birth was indeed different in the two groups.
CPAP failure by 72 hours
CPAP + surfactant
(RR (95% CI)=0.526 (0.292 to 0.950))
Clearly the event rates were quite off from what they expected in the power calculation but given that they found a difference as opposed to no difference at all the fact that they didn’t recruit the numbers they planned is of less importance.
However, what is interesting is when they looked at the planned analysis by stratification an interesting finding emerged.
Group 1 (29 0/7 to 31 6/7)
CPAP failure by 72 hours
CPAP + surfactant
(RR (95% CI)=0.860 (0.389 to 1.90))
Group 2 (32 0/7 to 33 6/7
CPAP failure by 72 hours
CPAP + surfactant
(RR (95% CI)=0.254 (0.089 to 0.727))
There were a number of secondary outcomes looked at as well which may be of interest to you but as the numbers here are quite small I will not comment other than to say there was no increased incidence of complications with surfactant administration in this fashion. Also for those who ultimately failed CPAP the time when they did so was quite delayed compared to CPAP alone. Age at intubation for nCPAP failure, hours 4.9 (2.7–10.6) 11.6 (9.0–31.1) 0.008*
What can we take from this?
I believe these results are encouraging even if the study is a small one. The message I take from this study is that aerosolization of surfactant delivers some amount of product to the lungs. Those with more significant RDS or smaller lungs (those in the 29 0/7 to 31 6/7 group) may not get enough surfactant to treat their RDS sufficiently to avoid intubation. Those with less significant RDS or a larger number of alveoli get “enough” of a dose delivered to the alveoli to make a difference and avoid intubation. It is worth stressing that there can be no specific comment about using this strategy in even more immature infants as they weren’t tested. If I had to guess though, I would expect no difference given the findings in the smaller group.
As a physician responsible for transport though I am interested in the potential benefits to those born in non-tertiary centres. Many centres lack individuals with the confidence and skill to regularly place endotracheal tubes. For these centres it may be that providing nebulized surfactant could delay the time to treatment failure, allowing more time for a trained transport team to arrive. Training of course would be needed in these centres on how to administer surfactant in this way but it is an interesting concept to consider. With a near tripling of the average time to treatment failure the extra hours on CPAP would be much appreciated when weather delays or difficulty securing air assets means long delays in transport team arrivals.
To be sure this isn’t the last study of this kind but it certainly is an interesting start and one that will no doubt produce questions that will help formulate the next study design.
A real change is coming and with this post you will get a glimpse into where the next big thing in Neonatology is likely to be. A catchy title for sure and also an exaggeration as I don’t see us abandoning the endotracheal tube just yet. There has been a lot of talk about less invasive means of giving surfactant and the last few years have seen several papers relating to giving surfactant via a catheter placed in the trachea (MIST or LISA techniques as examples). There may be a new kid on the block so to speak and that is aerosolized surfactant. This has been talked about for some time as well but the challenge had been figuring out how to aerosolize the fluid in such a way that a significant amount of the surfactant would actually enter the trachea. This was really a dream of many Neonatologists and based on a recently published paper the time may be now for this technique to take off.
A Randomized Trial of Aerosolized Surfacant
Minocchieri et al as part of the CureNeb study team published Nebulised surfactant to reduce severity of respiratory distress: a blinded, parallel, randomised controlled trial. This trial set out to obtain a sample size of 70 patients between 29 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks to demonstrate a difference in need for intubation from 30% down to 5% in patients treated with CPAP (30% was based on the historical average). The authors recognizing that the babies in this GA bracket might behave differently, further stratified the randomization into two groups being 29 0/7 – 31 6/7 weeks and 32 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks. Those babies who were on CPAP and met the following criteria for intubation were either intubated in the control group and given surfactant (curosurf) using the same protocol as those nebulized or had surfactant delivered via nebulisation (200 mg/kg: poractant alfa) using a customised vibrating membrane nebuliser (eFlow neonatal). Surfactant nebulisation(100 mg/kg) was repeated after 12 hours if oxygen was still required. The primary dichotomous outcome was the need for intubation within 72 hours of life, and the primary continuous outcome was the mean duration of mechanical ventilation at 72 hours of age.
Criteria for intubation
1. FiO2 >0.35 over more than 30 min OR FiO2 >0.45 at
2. More than four apnea/hour OR two apnea requiring BVM
3. Two cap gases with pH <7.2 and PaCO2 >65 mm Hg (or) >60 mm Hg if arterial blood gas sample).
4. Intubation deemed necessary by the attending physician.
Did It Work?
Eureka! It seemed to work as 11 of 32 infants were intubated in the surfactant nebulisation group within 72 hours of birth vs.22 out of 32 infants receiving CPAP alone (RR (95% CI)=0.526 (0.292 to 0.950)). The reduction though was accounted for by the bigger babies in the 32 0/7 to 33 6/7 weeks group as only 1 of 11 was intubated when given nebulized surfactant compared to 10 of 13 managed with CPAP. The duration of ventilation in the first 72 hours was not different between the groups: the median (range) 0 (0–62) hour for the nebulization group and 9 (0–64) hours for the control group (p=0.220). It is important in seeing these results that the clinicians deciding whether infants should be intubated for surfactant administration were blind to the arm the infants were in. All administration of curosurf via nebulization or sham procedures were done behind a screen.
The total number of infants randomized were 66 so they did fall shy of the necessary recruitment but since they did find a difference the results seem valid. Importantly, there were no differences in complications although I can’t be totally confident there really is no risk as this study was grossly underpowered to look at rarer outcomes.
Breaking down the results
This study has me excited as what it shows is that “it kind of works“. Why would larger babies be the ones to benefit the most? My guess is that some but not a lot of surfactant administered via nebulization reaches the alveoli. Infants with lesser degrees of surfactant deficiency (32 0/7 to 33 6/7) weeks might get just enough to manage without an endotracheal tube. Those infants (in particular less than 32 0/7 weeks) who have more significant surfactant deficiency don’t get enough and therefore are intubated. Supporting this notion is the overall delay in time to intubation in those who were intubated despite nebulization (11.6 hours in the nebulization group vs 4.9 hours in the control arm). They likely received some deposition in the distal alveoli but not enough to completely stave off an endotracheal tube.
One concerning point from the study though had to do with the group of infants who were intubated despite nebulization of surfactant. When you look at total duration of ventilation (hours) it was 14.6 (9.0–24.8) in the control arm vs 25.4 (14.6–42.2) p= 0.029*. In other words infants who were intubated in the end spent about twice as long intubated as those who were intubated straight away. Not a huge concern if you are born at 32 weeks or more but those additional thousands of positive pressure breaths are more worrisome as a risk for CLD down the road.
As it stands, if you had an infant who was 33 weeks and grunting with an FiO2 of 35% might you try this if you could get your hands on the nebulizer? It appears to work so the only question is whether you are confident enough that the risk of such things as pneumothorax or IVH isn’t higher if intubation is delayed. It will be interesting to see if this gets adopted at this point.
The future no doubt will see a refinement of the nebulizer and an attempt to see how well this technique works in infants below 29 weeks. It is in this group though that prolonging time intubated would be more worrisome. I don’t want to dismiss this outright as I see this as a pilot study that will lead the way for future work that will refine this technique. If we get this right this would be really transformative to Neonatology and just might be the next big leap.
For almost a decade now confirmation of intubation is to be done using detection of exhaled CO2. The 7th Edition of NRP has the following to say about confirmation of ETT placement “The primary methods of confirming endotracheal tube placement within the trachea are detecting exhaled CO2 and a rapidly rising heart rate.” They further acknowledge that there are two options for determining the presence of CO2 “There are 2 types of CO2 detectors available. Colorimetric devices change color in the presence of CO2. These are the most commonly used devices in the delivery room. Capnographs are electronic monitors that display the CO2 concentration with each breath.” The NRP program stops short of recommending one versus the other. I don’t have access to the costs of the colorimetric detectors but I would imagine they are MUCH cheaper than the equipment and sensors required to perform capnography using the NM3 monitor as an example. The real question though is if capnography is truly better and might change practice and create a safer resuscitation, is it the way to go?
Fast but not fast enough?
So we have a direct comparison to look at. Hunt KA st al published Detection of exhaled carbon dioxide following intubation during resuscitation at delivery this month. They started from the standpoint of knowing from the manufacturer of the Pedicap that it takes a partial pressure of CO2 of 4 mm Hg to begin seeing a colour change from purple to yellow but only when the CO2 reaches 15 mm Hg do you see a consistent colour change with that device. The capnograph from the NM3 monitor on the other hand is quantitative so is able to accurately display when those two thresholds are reached. This allowed the group to compare how long it took to see the first colour change compared to any detection of CO2 and then at the 4 and 15 mm Hg levels to see which is the quicker method of detection. It is an interesting question as what would happen if you were in a resuscitation and the person intubates and swears that they are in but there is no colour change for 5, 10 or 15 seconds or longer? At what point do you pull the ETT? Compare that with a quantitative method in which there is CO2 present but it is lower than 4. Would you leave the tube in and use more pressure (either PIP/PEEP or both?)? Before looking at the results, it will not shock you that ANY CO2 should be detected faster than two thresholds but does it make a difference to your resuscitation?
The Head to Head Comparison
The study was done retrospectively for 64 infants with a confirmed intubation using the NM3 monitor and capnography. Notably the centre did not use a colorimetric detector as a comparison group but rather relied on the manufacturers data indicating the 4 and 15 mm Hg thresholds for colour changes. The mean age of patients intubated was 27 weeks with a range of 23 – 34 weeks. The results I believe show something quite interesting and informative.
Median time secs (range)
Earliest CO2 detection
3.7 (0 – 44s)
4 mm Hg
5.3 (0 – 727)
15 mm Hg
8.1 (0 – 727)
I wouldn’t worry too much about a difference of 1.6 seconds to start getting a colour change but it is the range that has me a little worried. The vast majority of the patients demonstrated a level of 4 or 15 mm Hg within 50 seconds although many were found to take 25-50 seconds. When compared to a highest level of 44 seconds in the first detection of CO2 group it leads one to scratch their head. How many times have you been in a resuscitation and with no CO2 change you keep the ETT in past 25 seconds? Looking closer at the patients, there were 12 patients that took more than 30 seconds to reach a threshold of 4 mm Hg. All but one of the patients had a heart rate in between 60-85. Additionally there was an inverse relationship found between gestational age and time to detection. In other words, the smallest of the babies in the study took the longest to establish the threshold of 4 and 15 mm Hg.
Putting it into context?
What this study tells me is that the most fragile of infants may take the longest time to register a colour change using the colorimetric devices. It may well be that these infants take longer to open up their pulmonary vasculature and deliver CO2 to the alveoli. As well these same infants may take longer to open the lung and exhale the CO2. I suppose I worry that when a resuscitation is not going well and an infant at 25 weeks is bradycardic and being given PPV through an ETT without colour change, are they really not intubated? In our own centre we use capnometry in these infants (looks for a wave form of CO2) which may be the best option if you are looking to avoid purchasing equipment for quantitative CO2 measurements. I do worry though that in places where the colorimetric devices are used for all there will be patients who are extubated due to the thought that they in fact have an esophageal intubation when the truth is they just need time to get the CO2 high enough to register a change in colour.
Anyways, this is food for thought and a chance to look at your own practice and see if it is in need of a tweak…
Caffeine seems to be good for preterm infants. We know that it reduces the frequency of apnea in the this population and moreover facilitates weaning off the ventilator in a shorter time frame than if one never received it at all. The earlier you give it also seems to make a difference as shown in the Cochrane review on prophylactic caffeine. When given in such a fashion the chances of successful extubation increase. Less time on the ventilator not surprisingly leads to less chronic lung disease which is also a good thing.
I have written about caffeine more than once though so why is this post different? The question now seems to be how much caffeine is enough to get the best outcomes for our infants. Last month I wrote about the fact that as the half life of caffeine in the growing preterm infant shortens, our strategy in the NICU might be to change the dosing of caffeine as the patient ages. Some time ago though I wrote about the use of higher doses of caffeine and in the study analyzed warned that there had been a finding of increased cerebellar hemorrhage in the group randomized to receive the higher dosing. I don’t know about where you work but we are starting to see a trend towards using higher caffeine base dosing above 5 mg/kg/d. Essentially, we are at times “titrating to effect” with dosing being as high as 8-10 mg/kg/d of caffeine base.
Does it work to improve meaningful outcomes?
This month Vliegenthart R et al published a systematic review of all RCTs that compared a high vs low dosing strategy for caffeine in infants under 32 weeks at birth; High versus standard dose caffeine for apnoea: a systematic review. All told there were 6 studies that met the criteria for inclusion. Low dosing (all in caffeine base) was considered to be 5- 15 mg/kg with a maintenance dose of 2.5 mg/kg to 5 mg/kg. High dosing was a load of 5 mg/kg to 40 mg/kg with a maintenance of 2.5 mg/kg to 15 mg/kg. The variability in the dosing (some of which I would not consider high at all) makes the quality of the included studies questionable so a word of warning that the results may not truly be “high” vs “low” but rather “inconsistently high” vs. “inconsistently low”.
The results though may show some interesting findings that I think provide some reassurance that higher dosing can allow us to sleep at night.
On the positive front, while there was no benefit to BPD and mortality at 36 weeks PMA they did find if they looked only at those babies who were treated with caffeine greater than 14 days there was a statistically significant difference in both reduction of BPD and decreased risk of BPD and mortality. This makes quite a bit of sense if you think about it for a moment. If we know that caffeine improves the chances of successful extubation and we also know it reduces apnea, then who might be on caffeine for less than 2 weeks? The most stable of babies I would expect! These babies were all < 32 weeks at birth. What the review suggests is that those babies who needed caffeine for longer durations benefit the most from the higher dose. I think I can buy that.
On the adverse event side, I suppose it shouldn’t surprise many that the risk of tachycardia was statistically increased with an RR of 3.4. Anyone who has explored higher dosing would certainly buy that as a side effect that we probably didn’t need an RCT to prove to us. Never mind that, have you ever taken your own pulse after a couple strong coffees in the morning?
What did it not show?
It’s what the study didn’t show that is almost equally interesting. The cerebellar hemorrhages seen in the study I previously wrote about were not seen at all in the other studies. There could be a lesson in there about taking too much stock in secondary outcomes in small studies…
Also of note, looking at longer term outcome measures there appears to be no evidence of harm when the patients are all pooled together. The total number of patients in all of these studies was 620 which for a neonatal systematic review is not bad. A larger RCT may be needed to conclusively tell us what to do with a high and low dosing strategy that we can all agree on. What do we do though in the here and now? More specifically, if you are on call tomorrow and a baby is on 5 mg/kg/d of caffeine already, will you intubate them if they are having copious apneic events or give them a higher dose of caffeine when CPAP or NIPPV that they are already on isn’t cutting it? That is where the truth about how you feel about the evidence really comes out. These decisions are never easy but unfortunately you sometimes have to make a decision and the perfect study hasn’t been done yet. I am not sure where you sit on this but I think this study while certainly flawed gives me some comfort that nothing is truly standing out especially given the fact that some of the “high dose” studies were truly high. Will see what happens with my next patient!