Elective high frequency oscillatory ventilation versus conventional ventilation for acute pulmonary dysfunction in preterm infants

  • Review
  • Intervention




Respiratory failure due to lung immaturity is a major cause of mortality in preterm infants. Although the use of intermittent positive pressure ventilation (IPPV) in neonates with respiratory failure saves lives, its use is associated with lung injury and chronic lung disease (CLD). Conventional IPPV is provided at 30-80 breaths per minute, while a newer form of ventilation called high frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) provides 'breaths' at 10 - 15 cycles per second. This has been shown to result in less lung injury in experimental studies.


The objective of this review is to determine the effect of the elective use of high frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) as compared to conventional ventilation (CV) in preterm infants who are mechanically ventilated for respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), on the incidence of chronic lung disease, mortality and other complications associated with prematurity and assisted ventilation.

Search strategy

Searches were made of the Oxford Database of Perinatal Trials, MEDLINE, EMBASE, previous reviews including cross references, abstracts, conferences and symposia proceedings, expert informants, journal hand searching by the Cochrane Collaboration, mainly in the English language. The search was updated in April 2007.

Selection criteria

Randomised controlled trials comparing HFOV and CV in preterm or low birth weight infants with pulmonary dysfunction, mainly due to RDS, who were given IPPV. Randomisation and commencement of treatment needed to be as soon as possible after the start of IPPV and usually in the first 12 hours of life.

Data collection and analysis

The methodological quality of each trial was independently reviewed by the various authors. The standard effect measures are relative risk (RR) and risk difference (RD). From 1/RD the number needed to treat (NNT) to produce one outcome were calculated. For all measures of effect, 95% confidence intervals were used. In subgroup analyses the 99% CIs are also given for summary RRs in the text. Meta-analysis was performed using a fixed effects model. Where heterogeneity was over 50%, the random effects RR is also given.

Main results

Fifteen eligible studies of 3,585 infants were included. Meta-analysis comparing HFOV with CV revealed no evidence of effect on mortality at 28 - 30 days of age or at approximately term equivalent age. These results were consistent across studies and in subgroup analyses. The effect of HFOV on CLD in survivors at term equivalent gestational age was inconsistent across studies and the reduction was of borderline significance overall. Subgroups of trials showed a significant reduction in CLD with HFOV when high volume strategy for HFOV was used, when piston oscillators were used for HFOV, when lung protective strategies for CV were not used, when randomisation occurred at two to six hours of age, and when inspiratory:expiratory ratio of 1:2 was used for HFOV. In the meta-analysis of all trials, pulmonary air leaks occurred more frequently in the HFOV group.

In some studies, short-term neurological morbidity with HFOV was found, but this effect was not statistically significant overall. The subgroup of two trials not using a high volume strategy with HFOV found increased rates of Grade 3 or 4 intraventricular haemorrhage and of periventricular leukomalacia. An adverse effect of HFOV on long-term neurodevelopment was found in one large trial but not in the five other trials that reported this outcome. The rate of retinopathy of prematurity is reduced overall in the HFOV group.

Authors' conclusions

There is no clear evidence that elective HFOV offers important advantages over CV when used as the initial ventilation strategy to treat preterm infants with acute pulmonary dysfunction. There may be a small reduction in the rate of CLD with HFOV use, but the evidence is weakened by the inconsistency of this effect across trials and the overall borderline significance. Future trials on elective HFOV should target those infants who are at most risk of CLD (extremely preterm infants), compare different strategies for generating HFOV and CV, and report important long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Plain language summary

Elective high frequency oscillatory ventilation versus conventional ventilation for acute pulmonary dysfunction in preterm infants

Insufficient evidence exists to support the routine use of high frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV) instead of conventional ventilation for preterm infants with lung disease who are given positive pressure ventilation. High frequency oscillatory ventilation is a way of providing artificial ventilation of the lungs that theoretically may produce less injury to the lungs and therefore reduce the rate of chronic lung disease. This review of the evidence from fifteen randomised controlled trials showed variable results between studies and no clear overall benefit or harm resulting from HFOV.