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To reevaluate the clinical impact of external positive end-expiratory pressure (external-PEEP) application in patients with severe airway obstruction during controlled mechanical ventilation. The controversial occurrence of a paradoxic lung deflation promoted by PEEP was scrutinized.External-PEEP was applied stepwise (2 cm H2O, 5-min steps) from zero-PEEP to 150% of intrinsic-PEEP in patients already submitted to ventilatory settings minimizing overinflation. Two commonly used frequencies during permissive hypercapnia (6 and 9/min), combined with two different tidal volumes (VT: 6 and 9 mL/kg), were tested.A hospital intensive care unit.Eight patients were enrolled after confirmation of an obstructive lung disease (inspiratory resistance, >20 cm H2O/L per sec) and the presence of intrinsic-PEEP (≥5 cm H2O) despite the use of very low minute ventilation.All patients were continuously monitored for intra-arterial blood gas values, cardiac output, lung mechanics, and lung volume with plethysmography.Three different responses to external-PEEP were observed, which were independent of ventilatory settings. In the biphasic response, isovolume-expiratory flows and lung volumes remained constant during progressive PEEP steps until a threshold, beyond which overinflation ensued. In the classic overinflation response, any increment of external-PEEP caused a decrease in isovolume-expiratory flows, with evident overinflation. In the paradoxic response, a drop in functional residual capacity during external-PEEP application (when compared to zero-external-PEEP) was commonly accompanied by decreased plateau pressures and total-PEEP, with increased isovolume-expiratory flows. The paradoxic response was observed in five of the eight patients (three with asthma and two with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) during at least one ventilator pattern.External-PEEP application may relieve overinflation in selected patients with airway obstruction during controlled mechanical ventilation. No a priori information about disease, mechanics, or ventilatory settings was predictive of the response. An empirical PEEP trial investigating plateau pressure response in these patients appears to be a reasonable strategy with minimal side effects.