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

Brendan H. Milliner, Suzanne Bentley, James DuCanto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Background: 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. Methods: 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. Results: 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). Conclusions: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number7
JournalInternational Journal of Emergency Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 5 Mar 2019


  • Continuous positive airway pressure
  • Critical care
  • Emergency airway management
  • Low-resource settings


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