Frequency, duration and cause of ventilator alarms on a neonatal intensive care unit

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To investigate the frequency and cause of neonatal ventilator alarms. Neonatal ventilators frequently alarm and also disturb babies, parents and nurses. If frequent they may cause alarm fatigue and be ignored. The number, frequency and details of neonatal ventilator alarms are unreported.


We developed programs for retrieving and analysing ventilator data each second on alarms and ventilation parameters from 46 babies ventilated with Dräger Babylog VN500 ventilators using various modes.


A mean of 60 hours was recorded per baby. Over 116 days, 27 751 alarms occurred. On average, that was 603 per baby and 10 per hour. Median (IQR) alarm duration was 10 (4–21) s. Type, frequency and duration varied between infants. Some babies had >10% of their time with alarms. Eight alarm types caused ~99% of all alarms. Three alarms, ‘MV high limit’ and ‘respiratory rate >high limit’, caused 46.6%, often due to inappropriate settings. 49.9% were due to a low expired tidal volume during volume guarantee ventilation, often due to the maximum pressure being set too low. 26 106 (94.1%) of all alarms lasted <1 min. However, 86 alarms lasted >10 min and 16 alarms >1 hour. Similar alarms were frequently clustered, sometimes >100/hour.


Frequent ventilator alarms are caused by physiological variability in the respiratory rate or minute volume, inappropriate alarm limits or too low maximum peak inflating pressure during volume-targeted ventilation. While most alarms were very short, sometimes alarms were ignored by neonatal intensive care unit staff for long periods.

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