A Rationale for Use of High Flow Nasal Cannula for Select Patients With Suspected or Confirmed Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 Infection

J Intensive Care Med. 2021 Jan;36(1):9-17. doi: 10.1177/0885066620956630. Epub 2020 Sep 10.


Infection with the novel 2019 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is associated with the development of a viral pneumonia with severe hypoxemia and respiratory failure. In many cases these patients will require mechanical ventilation; but in others the severity of disease is significantly less and may not need invasive support. High flow nasal cannula (HFNC) is a widely used modality of delivering high concentrations of oxygen and airflow to patients with hypoxemic respiratory failure, but its use in patients with SARS-CoV-2 is poorly described. Concerns with use of HFNC have arisen including aerosolization of viral particles to healthcare workers (HCW) to delaying intubation and potentially worsening of outcomes. However, use of HFNC in other coronavirus pandemics and previous experimental evidence suggest HFNC is low risk and may be effective in select patients infected with SARS-CoV-2. With the significant increase in resource utilization in care of patients with SARS-CoV-2, identification of those that may benefit from HFNC allowing allocation of ventilators to those more critically ill is of significant importance. In this manuscript, we review pertinent literature regarding the use of HFNC in the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and address many concerns regarding its use.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; acute respiratory distress syndrome; aerosolization; critical care; high flow nasal cannula.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / complications
  • COVID-19* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Noninvasive Ventilation / methods*
  • Oxygen Inhalation Therapy / methods*
  • Patient Selection
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / etiology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency* / therapy