Discomfort associated with underhumidified high-flow oxygen therapy in critically ill patients

Intensive Care Med. 2009 Jun;35(6):996-1003. doi: 10.1007/s00134-009-1456-x. Epub 2009 Mar 18.


Objective: To measure (1) the discomfort in non-intubated patients under high-flow oxygen therapy (HFOT) humidified with bubble (BH) or heated humidifiers (HH), and (2) the hygrometric properties of oxygen with a BH and an HH.

Design and setting: This was a randomized cross-over study in critically ill patients during a 3-day period. The humidification device used at days 1 and 3 was changed for the other at day 2. (2) It was also an experimental bench study using the psychrometric method with five randomized flows (3, 6, 9, 12 and 15 l/min) and different humidification techniques.

Methods: Discomfort, particularly dryness of the mouth and throat, was measured for two humidification conditions (BH and HH) using a 0-10 numerical rating scale (NRS) by patients requiring HFOT with a face mask at a flow >/=5 l/min, in a double-blinded condition.

Results: (1) In this clinical study, 30 patients treated by HFOT at a median flow of 7.8 l/min (5.1-10.9) were included. The global incidence of moderate (NRS = 4-6) and severe discomfort (NRS = 7-10) was 25 and 29%, respectively. The median intensities of both mouth and throat dryness were significantly lower with the HH than with the BH [7.8 (5.0-9.4) vs. 5.0 (3.1-7.0), P = 0.001 and 5.8 (2.3-8.5) vs. 4.3 (2.0-5.0), P = 0.005, respectively]. (2) In the bench study, the mean absolute humidity measured at an ambient temperature of 26 degrees C with the HH was two times greater than with the BH (30 +/- 1 vs. 16 +/- 2 mg/l, P < 0.05) regardless of the flow rate.

Conclusions: Compared to bubble humidifiers, the use of a heated-humidifier in patients with high-flow oxygen therapy is associated with a decrease of dryness symptoms mediated by increased humidity delivered to the patient.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Critical Care*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Humidity / adverse effects*
  • Intubation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / adverse effects*
  • Pain
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy