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Volume 13 No. 08
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Accepted Papers

Scientific Investigations

High-Flow, Heated, Humidified Air Via Nasal Cannula Treats CPAP-Intolerant Children With Obstructive Sleep Apnea

Stephen Hawkins, MD1,2; Stephanie Huston, BS1; Kristen Campbell, BS3; Ann Halbower, MD1,2
1The Breathing Institute, Children's Hospital Colorado, Aurora, Colorado; 2Department of Pediatric Pulmonology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado; 3Department of Biostatistics and Informatics, University of Colorado, Aurora, Colorado

Study Objectives:

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is effective but challenging for children with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). High-flow air via open nasal cannula (HFNC) as treatment in children remains controversial. We report the efficacy of HFNC in children with OSA and CPAP intolerance, a titration protocol, and a discussion of potential mechanisms.


Patients aged 1 to 18 years with OSA (defined by obstructive apnea-hypopnea index [OAHI] greater than 1 event/h) and CPAP intolerance were enrolled. Routine polysomnography data obtained during 1 night wearing HFNC was compared with diagnostic data by Wilcoxon rank-sum test.


Ten school-age subjects (representing all patients attempting HFNC at our institution to date) with varied medical conditions, moderate to severe OSA, and CPAP intolerance wore HFNC from 10 to 50 L/min of room air with oxygen supplementation if needed (room air alone for 6 of the 10). HFNC reduced median OAHI from 11.1 events/h (interquartile range 8.7–18.8 events/h) to 2.1 events/h (1.7–2.2 events/h; P = .002); increased oxyhemoglobin saturation (SpO2) mean from 91.3% (89.6% to 93.5%) to 94.9% (92.4% to 96.0%; P < .002); increased SpO2 nadir from 76.0% (67.3% to 82.3%) to 79.5% (77.2% to 86.0%; P = .032); decreased SpO2 desaturation index from 19.2 events/h (12.7–25.8 events/h) to 6.4 events/h (4.7–10.7 events/h; P = .013); and reduced heart rate from 88 bpm (86–91 bpm) to 74 bpm (67–81 bpm; P = .004). Stratified analysis of the 6 subjects with only room air via HFNC, the OAHI, obstructive hypopnea index, and mean SpO2 still demonstrated improvements (P = .031).


High-flow nasal cannula reduces respiratory events, improves oxygenation, reduces heart rate, and may be effective for CPAP intolerant children with moderate to severe OSA. Our data suggest HFNC warrants further study and consideration by payers as OSA therapy.


Hawkins S, Huston S, Campbell K, Halbower A. High-flow, heated, humidified air via nasal cannula treats CPAP-intolerant children with obstructive sleep apnea. J Clin Sleep Med. 2017;13(8):981–989.

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