Objective: The aims of this study were to assess aspects of the response of a small thermocouple to temperature change, and to evaluate whether such a thermocouple could be used intermittently to measure respiratory rate and timing by detecting the changes in nasal temperature occurring with breathing.
Methods: The study had three parts. First, three similar, fast-responding thermocouples were immersed repeatedly in warm water. Second, the influence of atmospheric temperature on the signal of a thermocouple placed at different sites within the nasal orifice was studied. The signals produced were continuously displayed and analyzed using a laptop computer to allow evaluation of the thermocouples' response characteristics. Third, simultaneous respiratory recordings were acquired using a nasal thermocouple and a nasal pneumotachograph in 12 teenaged subjects. The respiratory rate and the periods of time taken for inspiration (Ti) and expiration (Te) were calculated and compared.
Results: The thermocouples' responses to the temperature changes associated with breathing and immersion into water were rapid and consistent. The rate of the signals' decay, following the peak signal marking expiration, was influenced by the atmospheric temperature. The time constants of the thermocouples were similar (mean time constant = 0.41 sec, standard deviation (SD) = 0.07). Optimal respiratory recordings were obtained, with least discomfort, when the thermocouple was positioned at 0 to 4 mm within the nasal orifice. In comparing the respiratory recordings acquired simultaneously with a thermocouple and pneumotachograph, the respiratory rates were identical, and the Ti and Te values were similar (mean difference 0.04 sec (95% CI: -0.11 to 0.21 sec) and -0.04 sec (95% CI: -0.20 to 0.12 sec), respectively).
Conclusions: Intermittent measurements of respiratory rate and timing using a nasal thermocouple accurately reflected measurements obtained from nasal airflow using a pneumotachograph.