Infant lung function testing in the intensive care unit

Intensive Care Med. 1995 Sep;21(9):744-52. doi: 10.1007/BF01704742.


As a result of the previous shortage of tools to assess objectively the overall physiological status of the respiratory system in infants and young children, it has been difficult to measure the degree of physiological disorder or the response to therapy in respiratory diseases such as BPD, the pediatric version of ARDS, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, asthma and croup in this patient population. The newborn- four-year old child is particularly difficult to study because of their lack of cooperation and size. The recent progress in computer technology made pulmonary function testing available for this age range and opened up new possibilities for monitoring changes in disease processes affecting the respiratory system. This may improve medical management of infants and children with lung and heart diseases in particular. In 1989, Shannon [49] proposed in this Journal that the minimum physiological information needed for the intelligent use of mechanical ventilation (particularly if lower airway and/or pulmonary parenchymal disease was apparent) required the measurement of at least 4 variables: i) arterial partial pressure of carbon dioxide; ii) arterial oxygen saturation; iii) the mechanical time constant of the lung and iv) FRC. In many circumstances, arterial CO2 is approximated by alveolar (end-tidal) CO2 and the arterial oxygen saturation is obtained from pulse oximetry accurately if perfusion is adequate. The mechanical time constant and FRC are easily measured by the techniques described above and together provide important information concerning appropriate ventilator settings for a given disease. The described techniques bring new insights and awareness, but also new responsibilities in the management of infants and children with respiratory compromise. Not all of these techniques need to be applied to all infants in the ICU. Not all the assumptions upon which some of the techniques we have described are based will prove true. Any such methods which do not withstand solid scientific testing must be quickly discarded and replaced with better and (hopefully) easier methods.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Intensive Care, Neonatal / methods*
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Respiratory Function Tests / methods*
  • Respiratory Mechanics