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The need to highlight the risks of high flow oxygen in clinical teaching
In a recent commentary we argued that the traditional representation of the haemoglobin oxygen dissociation curve developed by physiologists may be disconcerting for clinicians because of the prominence of the steep slope of oxygen desaturation with falling oxygen tension.1 We proposed that a different alignment may be preferable for clinicians in demonstrating its beneficial characteristics, enhancing both the “pick up” of oxygen despite cardiorespiratory disease and the “drop off” of oxygen to the tissues despite falling oxygen saturation (fig 1). It was hoped that, through a different perspective of the haemoglobin oxygen dissociation curve, it might be possible to overcome the ingrained practice of doctors, nurses and paramedics to prescribe high flow oxygen to breathless patients who do not necessarily have arterial hypoxaemia.2–4 However, such a change of long established practice would also require a recognition of the risks of inappropriate high flow oxygen therapy.5,6
The potential adverse pulmonary effects of high flow oxygen therapy were recognised soon after its widespread use in clinical practice. High flow oxygen was shown to result in worsening ventilation-perfusion mismatch due to absorption atelectasis and inhibition of reflex pulmonary vasoconstriction.7,8 These effects may …
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