High-Flow Nasal Cannula Oxygen Therapy in Adults: Physiological Benefits, Indication, Clinical Benefits, and Adverse Effects

Respir Care. 2016 Apr;61(4):529-41. doi: 10.4187/respcare.04577.


High-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen therapy is carried out using an air/oxygen blender, active humidifier, single heated tube, and nasal cannula. Able to deliver adequately heated and humidified medical gas at flows up to 60 L/min, it is considered to have a number of physiological advantages compared with other standard oxygen therapies, including reduced anatomical dead space, PEEP, constant F(IO2), and good humidification. Although few large randomized clinical trials have been performed, HFNC has been gaining attention as an alternative respiratory support for critically ill patients. Published data are mostly available for neonates. For critically ill adults, however, evidence is uneven because the reports cover various subjects with diverse underlying conditions, such as hypoxemic respiratory failure, exacerbation of COPD, postextubation, preintubation oxygenation, sleep apnea, acute heart failure, and conditions entailing do-not-intubate orders. Even so, across the diversity, many published reports suggest that HFNC decreases breathing frequency and work of breathing and reduces the need for respiratory support escalation. Some important issues remain to be resolved, such as definitive indications for HFNC and criteria for timing the starting and stopping of HFNC and for escalating treatment. Despite these issues, HFNC has emerged as an innovative and effective modality for early treatment of adults with respiratory failure with diverse underlying diseases.

Keywords: controlled trials; escalation; high-flow oxygen therapy; humidification; noninvasive ventilation; randomized.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cannula*
  • Critical Illness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Humidity
  • Male
  • Nose
  • Oxygen / administration & dosage
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / instrumentation
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / methods*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy*
  • Work of Breathing


  • Oxygen