What is the role of helium in the treatment of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?

Updated: Nov 13, 2020
  • Author: Paul Kleinschmidt, MD; Chief Editor: Barry E Brenner, MD, PhD, FACEP  more...
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Heliox usually is a 60:40 mixture of helium and oxygen. Helium is a smaller particle than oxygen and in small airways promotes laminar flow and facilitates both oxygen transport and carbon dioxide diffusion. Many patients who seem to breathe better on Heliox return to a worsened respiratory state when removed from Heliox.

Because of helium's low density, some class B evidence now exists for its use as the medium to drive nebulizer therapy. In theory, a mixture of helium and oxygen could improve gas exchange in patients who have an airway obstruction. In the realm of COPD exacerbations, however, the evidence is more slight, and more investigation is needed.

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