High flow nasal cannula for respiratory support in preterm infants

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Feb 22;2(2):CD006405. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD006405.pub3.


Background: High flow nasal cannulae (HFNC) are small, thin, tapered binasal tubes that deliver oxygen or blended oxygen/air at gas flows of more than 1 L/min. HFNC are increasingly being used as a form of non-invasive respiratory support for preterm infants.

Objectives: To compare the safety and efficacy of HFNC with other forms of non-invasive respiratory support in preterm infants.

Search methods: We used the standard search strategy of the Cochrane Neonatal Review Group to search the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL 2016, Issue 1), MEDLINE via PubMed (1966 to 1 January 2016), EMBASE (1980 to 1 January 2016), and CINAHL (1982 to 1 January 2016). We also searched clinical trials databases, conference proceedings, and the reference lists of retrieved articles for randomised controlled trials and quasi-randomised trials.

Selection criteria: Randomised or quasi-randomised trials comparing HFNC with other non-invasive forms of respiratory support in preterm infants immediately after birth or following extubation.

Data collection and analysis: The authors extracted and analysed data, and calculated risk ratio, risk difference and number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome.

Main results: We identified 15 studies for inclusion in the review. The studies differed in the interventions compared (nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), nasal intermittent positive pressure ventilation (NIPPV), non-humidified HFNC, models for delivering HFNC), the gas flows used and the indications for respiratory support (primary support from soon after birth, post-extubation support, weaning from CPAP support). When used as primary respiratory support after birth compared to CPAP (4 studies, 439 infants), there were no differences in the primary outcomes of death (typical risk ratio (RR) 0.36, 95% CI 0.01 to 8.73; 4 studies, 439 infants) or chronic lung disease (CLD) (typical RR 2.07, 95% CI 0.64 to 6.64; 4 studies, 439 infants). HFNC use resulted in longer duration of respiratory support, but there were no differences in other secondary outcomes. One study (75 infants) showed no differences between HFNC and NIPPV as primary support. Following extubation (total 6 studies, 934 infants), there were no differences between HFNC and CPAP in the primary outcomes of death (typical RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.43 to 1.36; 5 studies, 896 infants) or CLD (typical RR 0.96, 95% CI 0.78 to 1.18; 5 studies, 893 infants). There was 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). 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). There was a 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. 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. One trial (28 infants) found similar rates of reintubation for humidified and non-humidified HFNC, and two other trials (100 infants) found no difference between different models of equipment used to deliver humidified HFNC. For infants weaning from non-invasive respiratory support (CPAP), two studies (149 infants) found that preterm infants randomised to HFNC had a reduced duration of hospitalisation compared with infants who remained on CPAP.

Authors' conclusions: HFNC has similar rates of efficacy to other forms of non-invasive respiratory support in preterm infants for preventing treatment failure, death and CLD. Most evidence is available for the use of HFNC as post-extubation support. Following extubation, HFNC is associated with less nasal trauma, and may be associated with reduced pneumothorax compared with nasal CPAP. Further adequately powered randomised controlled trials should be undertaken in preterm infants comparing HFNC with other forms of primary non-invasive support after birth and for weaning from non-invasive support. 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.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Apnea / therapy*
  • Catheters*
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / methods
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / instrumentation
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / methods*
  • Positive-Pressure Respiration / methods
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / therapy*
  • Ventilator Weaning