Use of helium-oxygen gas mixtures for acute obstructive respiratory failure
Therapeutic use of helium has been described since 1930. Its main action is to reduce bronchial resistances and consequently overall respiratory work. Helium is substituted for nitrogen. The effects of inhaling a helium-oxygen mixture result exclusively from the physicochemical properties of helium: very low density, high kinetic viscosity. With the advent of selective bronchodilators, use of helium was rapidly abandoned until recently with new interest for the treatment of severe acute asthma. We review the literature on the physical properties of helium-oxygen mixtures and propose an analysis of their therapeutic use in severe acute asthma as well as other indications such as acute episodes of obstructive bronchopneumonia and obstruction of the upper airways. Due to the non-invasive nature of this technique, its easy use with spontaneous ventilation and the large body of theoretical data emphasizing its adaptation for therapeutic use, helium-oxygen gas mixtures offer an important therapeutic option for treating severe diseases with poor prognosis. A multicentric national study is under way to validate its use early by emergency ambulatory units for the treatment of severe acute asthma.
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