• Continuous positive airway pressure therapy;
  • acute pulmonary oedema;
  • emergency departments.


Background: Acute pulmonary oedema (APO) is a frequent cause of respiratory failure and a common reason for presentation to emergency departments (EDs). To date, no paper has been published on the application of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy for a large broad-based patient group.

Aim: To report our experience with the use of CPAP in severe APO oedema, with particular reference to safety, intubation rates and impact on EDs' resources.

Method: A retrospective chart review was undertaken of 75 patients with acute severe pulmonary oedema who were treated with adjuvant CPAP in an urban teaching hospital ED.

Results: Three patients (4%) required subsequent endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation. The average duration of CPAP was 1.9 hours. Eighty nine per cent of patients experienced no adverse events while being treated with CPAP. Five patients failed to tolerate the tight fitting mask necessitating removal of CPAP, three patients experienced arrhythmias related to underlying cardiac disease and two patients experienced mild transient hypotension. Seventy one per cent of patients were discharged from the ED to general medical wards. The in-hospital mortality for patients treated with CPAP was 15%.

Conclusion: This series has demonstrated that CPAP therapy delivered via a face mask for the treatment of acute severe APO is safe and effective when applied to a broad range of patients. We recommend the use of CPAP therapy for all suitable patients presenting in severe APO irrespective of age or underlying pulmonary disease.