High-flow nasal oxygen therapy for COVID-19 is easier to use, helps decrease inflammation
Doctors have been using high-flow oxygen therapy for COVID-19 patients due to the inefficiency of oxygen masks for such cases and the lack of sufficient ventilators
So far, more than 3 million cases of COVID-19 infection have been reported in India. While many patients are experiencing mild symptoms, old aged people and those with comorbidities often suffer from severe symptoms of COVID-19 which include severe breathlessness, pain in the chest, delirium and bluish discolouration of the face and lips. These patients require oxygen therapy for breathing which is provided either in the form of oxygen masks, high flow nasal oxygen via a cannula or mechanical ventilation. Due to the inefficiency of oxygen masks in COVID-19 related breathlessness and the lack of sufficient ventilators, doctors have been using high-flow nasal oxygen therapy to take care of the respiratory complications of COVID-19 infection.
What is high-flow nasal oxygen therapy?
High-flow nasal oxygen therapy, also known as HFNO, is a type of oxygen therapy that can deliver 37°C heated and 100% humidified oxygen at a flow of 60 litres per minute via nasal prongs or cannula, which are fitted to patient's nostrils.
The oxygen flow meter is attached to an oxygen blender and gas analyser, which makes sure that precise oxygen delivery is being given to the patient. The maximum gas flow rates can be from 40 to 60 litre per minute, whereas the heating and the humidifying system delivers gases at temperatures between 33°C and 43°C and humidity from 95% to 100%.
Benefits of high-flow nasal oxygen therapy
There are various advantages of HFNO over other modes of oxygen therapy. Some of them are:
1. HFNO is better than an oxygen mask and is easy to use, unlike a ventilator which requires expertise to handle.
2. Unlike other oxygen therapy measures, which use dry oxygen, HFNO provides warm and humidified oxygen to the body. This helps in maintaining the body’s temperature, decreases the inflammation in the airway and maintains mucociliary clearance, which is the cleaning mechanism of the respiratory tract.
3. The high-flow nasal oxygen therapy is non-invasive and is convenient for patients as people on HFNO therapy are awake, so they can talk, eat and drink.
4. The high-flow nasal oxygen cannula is lighter than other non-invasive ventilation modes such as BiPAP machines, which are usually given to the people suffering from sleep apnea.
5. Nasal cannulae are disposable, reducing the chance of getting infected, which is quite high in patients using an oxygen mask.
6. A high-flow nasal cannula is priced at Rs 5,000 which can last for two weeks, while the charge of a ventilator can be ten times more for a single day.
Disadvantages of high-flow nasal oxygen therapy
There are a few disadvantages of high-flow nasal oxygen therapy, which include:
1. HFNO cannot be used in severe cases as it does not deliver high-pressure oxygen to the lungs.
2. HFNO cannot be used on patients who cannot breathe on their own.
3. HFNO works best on patients who do not require a lot of oxygen to keep their saturation levels at 90%.
For more information, read our article on Oxygen Therapy.
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