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Neonatal nasal intermittent positive pressure ventilation: a survey of practice in England
  1. L S Owen1,
  2. C J Morley1,2,
  3. P G Davis1,2
  1. 1
    Neonatal Services, Royal Women’s Hospital, Victoria Australia
  2. 2
    University of Melbourne, Australia
  1. Dr L S Owen, Royal Women’s Hospital, Grattan Street, Carlton, VIC 3053, Australia; louise.owen{at}


Background: Less invasive techniques of respiratory support are increasingly popular.

Objective: To determine how widespread the use of neonatal nasal intermittent positive airway pressure (NIPPV) has become and describe the range of practice used in NIPPV in England.

Methods: 95 English Neonatal intensive care units were asked to provide information about NIPPV devices, interfaces, indications, guidelines, use of synchronisation, complications, settings and weaning.

Results: 91 (96%) units replied. NIPPV was used by 44/91 (48%) units; few complications were seen. 34/44 (77%) used a synchronising device, 35/44 (80%) used NIPPV for “rescuing” babies for whom continuous positive airway pressure failed—59% routinely after extubation and 16% as a first-line treatment. A wide range of pressure and rate settings were used.

Conclusions: In England, NIPPV is commonly used, with considerable variability in the techniques applied. The wide range of clinical approaches highlights the paucity of evidence available. More evidence is needed to establish best practice.

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Endotracheal intubation with positive pressure ventilation causes lung damage in very preterm infants. Newer ventilatory strategies have made little impact on rates of chronic lung disease.1 Alternative less invasive techniques such as nasal intermittent positive pressure ventilation (NIPPV)—that is, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) with superimposed inflations, are becoming increasingly popular.2 3

NIPPV has been shown to reduce reintubation after extubation in premature infants4 but many other aspects of this treatment have not been evaluated in good clinical trials—for example, its mechanism of action, clinical indications, best mode of delivery, best interface, need for synchronisation, optimal settings, complications, weaning and long-term effects.

Without good evidence, neonatal units have used NIPPV based on personal experience and anecdotal reports. This survey aimed to determine how widespread the use of neonatal NIPPV has become in England and to describe the range of practice used.


An email questionnaire was sent to the lead neonatologist of 95 level three neonatal intensive care units in England (identified from the BLISS database (the Premature Baby Charity, London, UK)). If no response was received, repeat emails were sent followed by a postal questionnaire, finally a second neonatologist was approached. We asked about intensive care cot numbers and use of NIPPV. We asked:

  • Was NIPPV used? What pressure source and interface were used?

  • Was a synchronisation device used for NIPPV delivery?

  • For which clinical indications was NIPPV used and did guidelines apply?

  • What complications were seen?

  • What were the typical settings?

  • How was NIPPV weaned?

Answers were tick boxes or numerical, with free text space for comments.


Ninety-one (96%) of 95 questionnaires were returned—44/91 (48%) after the initial email, increasing to 60 (66%) after a second email, 72 (79%) after a postal questionnaire and 96% after contact with a second neonatologist. Although all units contacted were identified as level 3 by the database used, 38 (42%) described themselves as level 2 and seven (8%) did not identify their level. Eighty-nine respondents (98%) supplied cot numbers, 73/89 (82%) units had at least four intensive care cots, and 26/89 (29%) had at least eight.

NIPPV was used by 44/91 (48%). Table 1 shows the numbers of units using different NIPPV pressure sources, interfaces and systems designed to synchronise with infant inspirations. Most units used custom-designed devices for NIPPV delivery; Infant Flow Advance, or SiPAP (both Viasys Healthcare, CA, USA) together with a synchronisation device. All but one used binasal prongs, many also used nasal masks. Some units were using more than one pressure source and interface.

Table 1 NIPPV delivery devices and synchronisation in 44 units

NIPPV was used routinely after extubation by 26/44 (59%), it was used for “rescuing” babies for whom CPAP failed by 35/44 (80%), including treatment of apnoea, and as a first-line mode of support in the treatment of respiratory distress by 7/44 (16%). Four (9%) units had developed formal guidelines for NIPPV use, two used NIPPV for infants below a particular weight or gestation and three said they had only just started to use NIPPV and were still establishing their indications.

Forty units (91%) reported no complications from NIPPV, three (7%) did not provide this information and one unit, using non-synchronised NIPPV, reported that very small infants appeared to develop abdominal distension during NIPPV, spending longer on parenteral nutrition while establishing full enteral feeds. No reports of gastrointestinal perforations were received.

Units were asked to specify the typical values they set, when using NIPPV. During NIPPV the end expiratory pressure (PEEP), peak pressure (PIP), inflation rate and inflation time can all be manipulated. Inflation rates may simply be “back up” rates should apnoea occur—for example, with the Infant Flow Advance and SiPAP machines, or “true” set rates during ventilator-delivered NIPPV. A wide range of values were seen (table 2).

Table 2 Values of end expiratory pressure (PEEP), peak pressure (PIP), inflation time (Ti) and inflation rate during NIPPV in 44 units

When weaning NIPPV, 21 (48%) units reduced the PIP towards PEEP and 29 (66%) reduced the number of mechanical inflations per minute, six (14%) used a combination of both methods. One unit simply stopped NIPPV, from peak pressures of 20 cm H20, PEEP of 5 cm H20 and a rate of 20/min.


NIPPV is used by almost half of the level 3 neonatal intensive care units in England, with several units having started to use it recently.

Despite little evidence about the relative benefits of different types of delivery device the majority used variable flow devices designed to deliver NIPPV via nasal prongs. Short binasal prongs are likely to be more effective than nasopharyngeal prongs for CPAP delivery as they allow greater transmission of the applied pressure and less resistance to flow.5 Clinical practice was consistent with these findings, with virtually all units using short binasal prongs. Nasal masks were also used in half of the units surveyed, though data about their efficacy or safety are minimal.

Although there is no evidence about the relative efficacy of synchronised versus non-synchronised NIPPV, the majority used devices designed to synchronise with the infants’ breathing movements, detected by an abdominal capsule. It has been reported that non-synchronised NIPPV is associated with a high rate of gastrointestinal perforation.6 Neither this complication, nor other serious complications, were reported in this survey.

NIPPV was most commonly used for treating apnoea; however, conflicting evidence exists about its use for this indication. Systematic review showed no advantage over the use of CPAP,4 but the studies evaluated were small (total 54 infants) and used non-synchronised NIPPV. More data are needed to answer this question. Sixty per cent used NIPPV after extubation to prevent reintubation. Evidence for this indication is from a systematic review4 analysing three randomised controlled trials (RCTs), totalling 159 infants. One in six units was using NIPPV as a primary mode of treatment for respiratory distress. No RCTs have evaluated NIPPV for this indication, the only published evidence has been observational.2 3

There are no satisfactory data in the literature about the optimal rate or pressure settings during NIPPV, or how to wean infants from NIPPV. This survey showed that a wide range of settings are used, particularly in the choice of PIP (7–20 cm H2O) and inflation rate (5–60/min, or assist/control mode). It was uncommon for the PEEP to be above 6 cm H2O or for the PIP to be above 14 cm H2O. The latter may be because PIP is limited by some delivery devices (Infant Flow Advance: maximum 11 cm H2O, SiPAP: maximum 15 cm H2O). There is no evidence that respiratory support with these pressures is better than CPAP, as the RCTs investigating apnoea and reintubation rates used a PIP in the range 16–30 cm H2O.4

Little is known about the mechanism of action of NIPPV. No randomised studies have looked at long-term outcome or been powered to look for complications. Further research is also urgently needed in this area.


This survey reports the way in which NIPPV is being used in English neonatal intensive care units. These results cannot be used as a guide to NIPPV management.

Historically, neonatal medicine has many examples of new treatments enthusiastically espoused without sufficient evidence. Where good evidence exists current practice appears to be consistent, but the wide range of clinical approaches in areas identified by this survey highlights the paucity of evidence available in this field. Research studies and clinical trials of NIPPV are urgently needed to establish best practice and reduce the chance of harm.


The following neonatal units provided data for this survey: Airedale General Hospital, West Yorkshire; Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral; Barnet Hospital, Hertfordshire; Birmingham Heartlands Hospital, Birmingham; Birmingham Women’s Hospital, Birmingham; Bradford Royal Infirmary, West Yorkshire; Burnley General Hospital, Lancashire; Calderdale Royal Hospital, West Yorkshire; Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London; City Hospital, Birmingham; Countess of Chester Hospital, Chester; Derby City General Hospital, Derbyshire; Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, Devon; Dewsbury and District Hospital, West Yorkshire; Diana Princess of Wales Hospital, Grimsby, Lincolnshire; Doncaster Royal Infirmary, South Yorkshire; East Surrey Hospital, Redhill; Elizabeth Anderson Hospital University College London; St Helier University Hospital, Surrey; Frimley Park Hospital, Surrey; Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, Gloucestershire; Great Ormond Street Hospital, London; Hillingdon Hospital, Middlesex; Homerton Hospital, London; Hope Hospital, Salford, Manchester; Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, West Yorkshire; James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough, Cleveland; John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxfordshire; King George Hospital, Essex; King’s Mill Hospital, Nottinghamshire; Leeds General Infirmary, West Yorkshire; Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicestershire; Leighton Hospital, Crewe, Cheshire; Lister Hospital, Stevenage, Hertfordshire; Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Merseyside; Luton and Dunstable Hospital, Bedfordshire; Mayday University Hospital, Croydon, London; Medway Maritime Hospital, Gillingham, Kent; Milton Keynes General Hospital, Buckinghamshire; New Cross Hospital, Wolverhampton, Staffordshire; Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Norfolk; Northampton General Hospital, Northamptonshire; North Hampshire Hospital, Basingstoke; Northwick Park Hospital, Middlesex; Nottingham City Hospital, Nottinghamshire; Nottingham University Hospital, Nottinghamshire; Peterborough Maternity Unit, Cambridgeshire; Pontefract General Infirmary, West Yorkshire; Poole Hospital, Dorset; Princess Anne Hospital, Southampton; Queen Charlotte’s Chelsea Hospital, London; Rochdale Infirmary, Lancashire; Rosie Hospital(Addenbrookes), Cambridge; Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, Wigan, Lancashire; Royal Berkshire Hospital, Reading; Royal Bolton Hospital, Lancashire; Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro; Royal Devon & Exeter Hospital, Devon; Royal Hampshire County Hospital, Winchester; Royal Preston Hospital, Lancashire; Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, Shropshire; Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton; Royal United Hospital, Bath; Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle-upon-Tyne; Russells Hall Hospital, Dudley, West Midlands; Scunthorpe General Hospital, Lincolnshire; Southmead Hospital, Bristol; St George’s Hospital, London; St Mary’s Hospital, Manchester; St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth, Hampshire; St Mary’s Hospital, London; St Michael’s Hospital, Bristol; St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey, Surrey; Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, London; Sunderland Royal Hospital, Tyne and Wear; Taunton and Somerset Hospital, Somerset; The Great Western Hospital, Swindon, Wiltshire; The Hull and East Yorkshire Womens Hospital, Yorkshire; The Jessop Wing North Trent, Sheffield, South, Yorkshire; Barts and The London Hospital, London; The Royal Free, London; University Hospital Lewisham, London; University Hospital of North Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent; University Hospital of North Tees, Stockton-on-Tees, Cleveland; University Hospital Walsgrave, West Midlands; Victoria Hospital, Blackpool, Lancashire; Watford General Hospital, Hertfordshire; Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, Berkshire; Whittington Hospital, London; William Harvey Hospital, Ashford, Kent; Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester; York District Hospital, North Yorkshire and BLISS - the Premature Baby Charity.



  • Competing interests: None.