Optimizing preoxygenation in adults

Can J Anaesth. 2009 Jun;56(6):449-66. doi: 10.1007/s12630-009-9084-z. Epub 2009 Apr 28.


Purpose: Preoxygenation increases oxygen reserves and duration of apnea without desaturation (DAWD), thus it provides valuable additional time to secure the airway. The purpose of this Continuing Professional Development (CPD) module is to examine the various preoxygenation techniques that have been proposed and to assess their effectiveness in healthy adults and in obese, pregnant, and elderly patients.

Principal findings: The effectiveness of preoxygenation techniques can be evaluated by measuring DAWD, i.e., the time for oxygen saturation to decrease to <90%. Clinically, preoxygenation is considered adequate when end-tidal oxygen fraction is >90%. This is usually achieved with a 3-min tidal volume breathing (TVB) technique. As a rule, asking the patient to take four deep breaths in 30 sec (4 DB 30 sec) yields poorer results. Eight deep breaths in 60 sec (8 DB 60 sec) is equivalent to TVB 3 min. The DAWD is decreased in obese patients, pregnant women, and patients with increased metabolism. Obese patients may benefit from the head-up position and positive pressure breathing. A TVB technique is preferable in the elderly. Failure to preoxygenate is often due to leaks, which commonly occur in edentulous or bearded patients. In cases of difficult preoxygenation, directly applying the circuit to the mouth might be a useful alternative. Supplying extra oxygen in the nasopharynx during apnea might increase DAWD.

Conclusion: Since ventilation and tracheal intubation difficulties are unpredictable, this CPD module recommends that all patients be preoxygenated. The TVB 3 min and the 8 DB 60 sec techniques are suitable for most patients; however, the 4 DB 30 sec is inadequate.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anesthesia, Closed-Circuit / adverse effects
  • Apnea / etiology
  • Apnea / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / prevention & control*
  • Obesity / metabolism
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Oxygen / physiology
  • Oxygen / therapeutic use*
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / methods*
  • Posture / physiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary Atelectasis / metabolism
  • Risk Factors


  • Oxygen