High-Flow Nasal Cannula versus Nasal Continuous Positive Airway Pressure for Primary Respiratory Support in Preterm Infants with Respiratory Distress: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Neonatology. 2018;113(3):235-241. doi: 10.1159/000484400. Epub 2018 Jan 23.


Background: Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (nCPAP) is the standard noninvasive respiratory support for newborns with respiratory distress. Evidence for high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) as an alternative mode of respiratory support is inconclusive.

Objective: The aim of this work was to evaluate whether HFNC is not inferior to nCPAP in reducing the need for higher respiratory support in the first 72 h of life when applied as a noninvasive respiratory support mode for preterm neonates with respiratory distress.

Methods: Preterm infants (gestation ≥28 weeks and birth weight ≥1,000 g) with respiratory distress were randomized to either HFNC or nCPAP in a non-inferiority trial. Failure of the support mode in the first 72 h after birth was the primary outcome. Infants failing HFNC were rescued either with nCPAP or mechanical ventilation, and those failing nCPAP received mechanical ventilation.

Results: During the study period, 139 and 133 infants were randomized to the nCPAP and HFNC groups, respectively. The study was stopped after an interim analysis showed a significant difference (p < 0.001) in the primary outcome between the 2 groups. The treatment failure was significantly higher in the HFNC group (HFNC, n = 35, 26.3%, vs. CPAP, n = 11, 7.9%, risk difference 18.4 percentage points, 95% CI 9.7-27). Among the infants in the HFNC group who had treatment failure (n = 35), 32 were initially rescued with CPAP. The rate of mechanical ventilation in the first 3 and 7 days of life was similar between the 2 groups. Treatment failure was significantly higher in the HFNC group per protocol and also in the subgroups of infants with moderate (Silverman Anderson score, SAS ≤5) or severe respiratory distress (SAS score >5).

Conclusions: When comparing HFNC to nCPAP as a primary noninvasive respiratory support in preterm infants with respiratory distress, HFNC is inferior to nCPAP in avoiding the need for a higher mode of respiratory support in the first 72 h of life.

Keywords: High-flow nasal cannula; Nasal continuous positive airway pressure; Preterm infant; Respiratory distress.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Cannula
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / adverse effects
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Male
  • Nose
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / adverse effects
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / methods*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / mortality*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / therapy*
  • Survival Analysis
  • Treatment Failure