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High Flow Nasal Cannula

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is high flow nasal cannula (HFNC)?

HFNC is used to give oxygen at a high rate. The oxygen is delivered through small prongs that sit in the nostrils. The high flow rate makes breathing easier. The lungs do not have to work as hard to get air in and out. It also helps clear carbon dioxide from the airway.

Inspiration and Expiration

Why may HFNC be needed?

  • Helps premature newborns breathe. Premature babies are born earlier than 37 weeks, before certain parts of the body have fully formed. This can cause a condition called apnea of prematurity (AOP). AOP causes the baby to stop breathing for 15 to 20 seconds or to pause for several seconds. HFNC can help the baby breathe more regularly.
  • Manages lung conditions in older children and adults. Conditions such as COPD, pneumonia, and respiratory failure can cause low blood oxygen levels. HFNC helps increase the oxygen level. It can also help thin mucus that may form in the lungs. This makes it easier to cough up or remove.
  • Keeps the airway open during sleep. HFNC can be used to manage obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is usually treated with a continuous positive air pressure (CPAP) machine. A CPAP mask may be difficult to wear during sleep. HFNC does not use a mask, so it may be more comfortable than CPAP.
  • Prevents breathing problems before and after a procedure or surgery. For example, breathing problems can develop during intubation. HFNC can keep oxygen at the right level while intubation tubes are being placed and removed.

What do I need to know about HFNC use at home?

Healthcare providers will show you how to set up and use the device at home. You will get information on how to clean the parts and how much extra oxygen to keep as a backup. You will also get instructions for using oxygen safely. This includes checking your blood oxygen level regularly with a pulse oximeter.

Pulse Oximeter

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.