Comparison of heliox and oxygen as washing gases for the nitrogen washout technique in preterm infants

Pediatr Res. 1996 Jun;39(6):1099-1102. doi: 10.1203/00006450-199606000-00027.


The nitrogen washout technique usually involves exposure of the patient to 100% oxygen for several minutes. This may be dangerous in preterm infants who are at risk of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). We wanted to know whether heliox (79% He, 21% O2) can be used instead of oxygen when determining functional residual capacity (FRC). FRC measurements were made in 14 preterm infants [median (range) gestational age at birth 34 wk (27-37 wk), and at time of study 36 wk (33-40 wk)] who were breathing room air. FRC was measured using a computerized infant pulmonary function system, beginning in random order with either 100% O2 followed by heliox or vice versa. There was no systematic difference between the two methods with regard to lung volume measurements: mean (SD) FRC values, corrected for body weight, were 22.9 (7.1) mL/kg for O2 and 23.4 (7.0) mL/kg for heliox. We did not observe a systematic influence of the type of washing gas used (heliox or oxygen) on FRC in these infants. Our results suggest that the use of heliox instead of pure oxygen may be a suitable and safer alternative for FRC measurements with the nitrogen washout technique in preterm infants who are breathing low concentrations of inspired oxygen and are still at risk of ROP.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Functional Residual Capacity*
  • Helium*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Nitrogen*
  • Oxygen*


  • Helium
  • heliox
  • Nitrogen
  • Oxygen