The benefits of helium-oxygen (heliox) administration for pediatric upper and lower respiratory disorders have been well described. However, while most studies advocate delivery via a sealed or semisealed facemask system, such systems may not be tolerated in the young child. This report describes the successful and efficacious delivery of heliox via nasal cannula to 5 infants.
A mixture of 80% helium/20% oxygen was blended with 100% oxygen from a wall source and delivered via nasal cannula to 5 spontaneously breathing infants with respiratory distress at flow rates of 2 to 3 liters per minute. Treatment efficacy was retrospectively extracted from nursing, respiratory therapist, and physician entries in the medical record, specifically focusing on changes in respiratory rate, work of breathing, and oxygenation and/or ventilation parameters.
All 5 infants tolerated the nasal cannula well. In 2, nasal cannulae were used after attempts to use a facemask system were not tolerated. All patients demonstrated rapid improvements in respiratory parameters including a decreased work of breathing (n = 5), respiratory rate (n = 4), transcutaneous CO2 (n = 2), and stridor (n = 2), or improved oxygenation (n = 1). In 1 patient, the recurrence of distress shortly after discontinuing heliox was rapidly reversed with heliox reinstitution.
In infants with respiratory distress who do not tolerate a facemask, the use of nasal cannula represents a viable and efficacious alternative for heliox delivery.