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Revisiting oxygen therapy in patients with exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Iven H Young
Med J Aust 2007; 186 (5): 239.

Controlling oxygen delivery to limit oxygen saturation should reduce the incidence of hyperoxic hypercapnia

The report by Joosten et al in this issue of the Journal (page 235)1 is a timely reminder of the importance of avoiding the induction of hyperoxic hypercapnia in patients with acute-on-chronic respiratory failure. The complication of acute hypercapnic respiratory failure precipitated by giving oxygen has long been recognised; most resident medical and nursing staff are aware of this problem. The natural intervention in patients presenting with acute-on-chronic respiratory failure is to relieve any hypoxia with supplemental oxygen, but this can be associated with carbon dioxide retention, narcosis, respiratory acidosis, and death. That the use of controlled oxygen flow rates could avoid this complication (and the need, in those days, for tracheostomy and invasive ventilation) was first recognised in the 1940s and 1950s.2 Although hyperoxic hypercapnia can now be managed with non-invasive ventilation, the article by Joosten et al reminds us that it still has adverse consequences for morbidity, length of stay and the use of hospital resources.1

  • Iven H Young

  • Department of Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney, NSW.

Correspondence: iveny@med.usyd.edu.au

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