Carbon Dioxide Narcosis Due to Inappropriate Oxygen Delivery

A Case Report

Thomas Herren; Eva Achermann; Thomas Hegi; Adrian Reber; Max Stäubli

Disclosures

J Med Case Reports. 2017;11(204) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Abstract

Background: Oxygen delivery to patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may be challenging because of their potential hypoxic ventilatory drive. However, some oxygen delivery systems such as non-rebreathing face masks with an oxygen reservoir bag require high oxygen flow for adequate oxygenation and to avoid carbon dioxide rebreathing.

Case presentation: A 72-year-old Caucasian man with severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was admitted to the emergency department because of worsening dyspnea and an oxygen saturation of 81% measured by pulse oximetry. Oxygen was administered using a non-rebreathing mask with an oxygen reservoir bag attached. For fear of removing the hypoxic stimulus to respiration the oxygen flow was inappropriately limited to 4L/minute. The patient developed carbon dioxide narcosis and had to be intubated and mechanically ventilated.

Conclusions: Non-rebreathing masks with oxygen reservoir bags must be fed with an oxygen flow exceeding the patient's minute ventilation (>6–10 L/minute.). If not, the amount of oxygen delivered will be too small to effectively increase the arterial oxygen saturation. Moreover, the risk of carbon dioxide rebreathing dramatically increases if the flow of oxygen to a non-rebreathing mask is lower than the minute ventilation, especially in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and low tidal volumes. Non-rebreathing masks (with oxygen reservoir bags) must be used cautiously by experienced medical staff and with an appropriately high oxygen flow of 10–15 L/minute. Nevertheless, arterial blood gases must be analyzed regularly for early detection of a rise in partial pressure of carbon dioxide in arterial blood in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and a hypoxic ventilatory drive. These patients are more safely managed using a nasal cannula with an oxygen flow of 1–2L/minute or a simple face mask with an oxygen flow of 5L/minute.

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