Objectives: To understand when the use of high-frequency ventilation would be advantageous, we formulated the problem of achieving adequate alveolar ventilation at minimal pressure cost by dividing it into two simpler problems: a) the pressure cost per unit of convective oscillatory flow; and b) the convective flow cost necessary to achieve a unit of alveolar ventilation.
Methods: Simple solutions for each of these cost functions were formulated using established models of gas exchange and lung mechanics, including the effects of lung inflation tidal volume and respiratory frequency in alveolar ventilation, nonlinear lung tissue compliance, and alveolar recruitment and derecruitment. Solutions to these models were combined to assess the total pressure cost of high-frequency ventilation as a function of the ventilatory settings and the pathophysiologic variables of the patient.
Main results: The model predicted that for variables applicable to an infant with respiratory distress syndrome, the selection of positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) becomes critical because the penalties in pressure cost are amplified for both high and low values of PEEP. The selection of frequency is not as critical for frequencies > 10 Hz, although it is more important than in the normal neonatal lung.
Conclusions: This analysis illustrates the importance of using high-frequency ventilation in infant respiratory distress syndrome and of optimizing the amount of PEEP. It also points out the danger of barotrauma in the derecruited lung. When the lungs are in a derecruited state, the combinations of frequency, PEEP, and tidal volume that yield adequate ventilation with safe distention of recruited alveoli are severely limited.