A Novel Weaning Protocol for High-Flow Nasal Cannula in the PICU

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High-flow nasal cannula use in the PICU continues to increase; however, a protocol for weaning patients has yet to be published. This study aimed to create an efficient and safe protocol for weaning high-flow nasal cannula.


A Respiratory Assessment Score was created using two validated scoring systems. A protocol was established for set “holidays” off high-flow nasal cannula, where nasal cannula flow was reduced to age-based low-flow nasal cannula rates if Respiratory Assessment Scores met certain criteria.


The PICU at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, a quaternary level hospital affiliated with Emory University.


Patients treated in the PICU with high-flow nasal cannula from August 2013 to March 2014. Exclusions included apnea, heliox therapy, oxygen saturations less than 92% with a FIO2 greater than 50%, admitted to PICU less than 6 hours, progression to intubation prior to scoring, or those ordered by physician to not receive holidays based on clinical status.


Patients who qualified for a “holiday” based on Respiratory Assessment Score were trialed off high-flow nasal cannula and rescored afterwards to assess tolerance.

Measurements and Main Results:

One hundred thirty-three patients were treated with high-flow nasal cannula, with the most common diagnosis being bronchiolitis (43%). Of these 133 patients, 119 (89.5%) successfully weaned to low-flow nasal cannula within four holiday attempts. Eighty-three patients (70%) weaned with only one attempt. Fourteen patients (10.5%) failed to wean. Reasons for failure were reintubation, increasing flow on high-flow nasal cannula, too high of Respiratory Assessment Score to meet weaning criteria, or slow weaning after failed attempts. Holidays did not precipitate clinical deterioration or lead to immediate intubation.


Our study suggests that a high-flow nasal cannula “holiday” protocol is a safe and effective way to successfully wean PICU patients off high-flow nasal cannula. Additional investigation including validation of the scoring system used is warranted.

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