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01.12.2019 | Practice innovations in emergency medicine | Ausgabe 1/2019 Open Access

International Journal of Emergency Medicine 1/2019

A pilot study of improvised CPAP (iCPAP) via face mask for the treatment of adult respiratory distress in low-resource settings

International Journal of Emergency Medicine > Ausgabe 1/2019
Brendan H. Milliner, Suzanne Bentley, James DuCanto
Wichtige Hinweise

Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1186/​s12245-019-0224-0) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is a mode of non-invasive ventilation used to treat a variety of respiratory conditions in the emergency department and intensive care unit. In low-resource settings where ventilators are not available, the ability to improvise a CPAP system from locally available equipment would provide a previously unavailable means of respiratory support for patients in respiratory distress. This manuscript details the design of such a system and its performance in healthy volunteers.


An improvised CPAP system was assembled from standard emergency department equipment and tested in 10 healthy volunteers (6 male, 4 female; ages 29–33). The system utilizes a water seal and high-flow air to create airway pressure; it was set to provide a pressure of 5 cmH2O for the purposes of this pilot study. Subjects used the system in a monitored setting for 30 min. Airway pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation, and end-tidal CO2 were monitored. Comfort with the device was assessed via questionnaire.


The system maintained positive airway pressure for the full trial period in all subjects, with a mean expiratory pressure (EP) of 5.1 cmH2O (SD 0.7) and mean inspiratory pressure (IP) of 3.2 cmH2O (SD 0.8). There was a small decrease in average EP (5.28 vs 4.88 cmH2O, p = 0.03) and a trend toward decreasing IP (3.26 vs 3.07 cmH2O, p = 0.22) during the trial. No significant change in heart rate, O2 saturation, respiratory rate, or end-tidal CO2 was observed. The system was well tolerated, ranked an average of 4.0 on a 1–5 scale for comfort (with 5 = very comfortable).


This improvised CPAP system maintained positive airway pressure for 30 min in healthy volunteers. Use did not cause tachycardia, hypoxia, or hypoventilation and was well tolerated. This system may be a useful adjunctive treatment for respiratory distress in low-resource settings. Further research should test this system in settings where other positive pressure modalities are not available.
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