Pilot Clinical Trial of High-Flow Oxygen Therapy in Children with Asthma in the Emergency Service

Published:January 11, 2018DOI:


      To assess the efficacy of high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) oxygen therapy and safety in children with asthma and moderate respiratory failure in the emergency department (ED).

      Study design

      This was a prospective randomized pilot trial of children (aged 1-14 years) presenting to a tertiary academic pediatric ED with moderate-to-severe asthma exacerbations between September 2012 and December 2015. Patients with a pulmonary score (PS) ≥6 or oxygen saturation <94% with a face mask despite initial treatment (salbutamol/ipratropium bromide and corticosteroids) were randomized to HFNC or to conventional oxygen therapy. Pharmacologic treatment was at the discretion of attending physicians. The primary outcome was a decrease in PS ≥2 in the first 2 hours. Secondary outcomes included disposition, length of stay, and need for additional therapies.


      We randomly allocated 62 children to receive either HFNC (n = 30) or standard oxygen therapy (n = 32). Baseline patient characteristics were similar in the 2 groups. At 2 hours after the start of therapy, PS had decreased by ≥2 points in 16 patients in the HFNC group (53%) compared with 9 controls (28%) (P = .01). Between-group differences in disposition, length of stay, and need for additional therapies were not significant. No side effects were reported.


      HFNC appears to be superior to conventional oxygen therapy for reducing respiratory distress within the first 2 hours of treatment in children with moderate-to-severe asthma exacerbation refractory to first-line treatment. Further studies are needed to demonstrate its overall efficacy in the management of asthma and respiratory failure in the ED.

      Trial registration

      EudraCT: 2012-001771-36.



      ED (Emergency department), FiO2 (Fraction of inspired oxygen), HFNC (High-flow nasal cannula), HR (Heart rate), n.s (Not significant), PICU (Pediatric intensive care unit), PS (Pulmonary score), RR (Respiratory rate), SpO2 (Oxygen saturation)
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