Helmet CPAP to treat hypoxic pneumonia outside the ICU: an observational study during the COVID-19 outbreak

Crit Care. 2021 Feb 24;25(1):80. doi: 10.1186/s13054-021-03502-y.


Background: Respiratory failure due to COVID-19 pneumonia is associated with high mortality and may overwhelm health care systems, due to the surge of patients requiring advanced respiratory support. Shortage of intensive care unit (ICU) beds required many patients to be treated outside the ICU despite severe gas exchange impairment. Helmet is an effective interface to provide continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) noninvasively. We report data about the usefulness of helmet CPAP during pandemic, either as treatment, a bridge to intubation or a rescue therapy for patients with care limitations (DNI).

Methods: In this observational study we collected data regarding patients failing standard oxygen therapy (i.e., non-rebreathing mask) due to COVID-19 pneumonia treated with a free flow helmet CPAP system. Patients' data were recorded before, at initiation of CPAP treatment and once a day, thereafter. CPAP failure was defined as a composite outcome of intubation or death.

Results: A total of 306 patients were included; 42% were deemed as DNI. Helmet CPAP treatment was successful in 69% of the full treatment and 28% of the DNI patients (P < 0.001). With helmet CPAP, PaO2/FiO2 ratio doubled from about 100 to 200 mmHg (P < 0.001); respiratory rate decreased from 28 [22-32] to 24 [20-29] breaths per minute, P < 0.001). C-reactive protein, time to oxygen mask failure, age, PaO2/FiO2 during CPAP, number of comorbidities were independently associated with CPAP failure. Helmet CPAP was maintained for 6 [3-9] days, almost continuously during the first two days. None of the full treatment patients died before intubation in the wards.

Conclusions: Helmet CPAP treatment is feasible for several days outside the ICU, despite persistent impairment in gas exchange. It was used, without escalating to intubation, in the majority of full treatment patients after standard oxygen therapy failed. DNI patients could benefit from helmet CPAP as rescue therapy to improve survival.

Trial registration: NCT04424992.

Keywords: Coronavirus pneumonia; Covid-19; Helmet continuous positive airways pressure CPAP; Noninvasive ventilation; Positive end expiratory pressure PEEP.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • COVID-19 / complications*
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology
  • Continuous Positive Airway Pressure / methods*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / therapy*
  • Hypoxia / virology
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Noninvasive Ventilation
  • Pneumonia, Viral / therapy*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Treatment Outcome

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04424992