General anesthesia-induced atelectasis is common, and persistent postoperative atelectasis is associated with pulmonary complications. We aimed to evaluate the preventive effects of a high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) on postoperative atelectasis and respiratory complications in infants and small children.
In this prospective randomized controlled trial, children (≤2 years) receiving general anesthesia (>2 hours) were randomized into the control and HFNC groups. At the end of the surgery, the first lung ultrasound evaluation was performed in both groups. In the postanesthetic care unit (PACU), the control group received conventional oxygen therapy, while the HFNC group received oxygen via HFNC, with a flow rate of 2 L kg−1 min−1. Before discharge to the ward, a second lung ultrasound examination was performed. The primary outcome was the lung ultrasound score at PACU discharge. The secondary outcomes included the lung ultrasound score at the end of surgery, the incidence of significant atelectasis at PACU discharge, and other postoperative outcomes.
Lung ultrasound score and the incidence of atelectasis at the end of surgery did not differ significantly between the control (n = 38) and HFNC (n = 40) groups. After staying in the PACU, both groups showed a reduced lung ultrasound score and atelectasis incidence. However, the HFNC group had a significantly lower consolidation score than the control group (0; interquartile range [IQR] = 0–1 vs 3; IQR = 2–4; P< .001). Additionally, none of the patients had significant atelectasis in the HFNC group, compared to 6 patients in the control group (0% vs 15.8%; odds ratio [OR] = 0.444; 95% confidence interval for OR, 0.343–0.575; P = .011). Incidence of desaturation (oxygen saturation [SpO2] ≤ 95%), postoperative complications, and the length of hospital stay did not differ between the groups.
Preventive use of HFNC after surgery improves the lung ultrasound score and reduces postoperative atelectasis compared to conventional oxygen therapy in infants and small children.