Modelling nasal high flow therapy effects on upper airway resistance and resistive work of breathing

Cletus F. Adams, Patrick H. Geoghegan, Callum J. Spence, Mark C. Jermy

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The goal of this paper is to quantify upper airway resistance with and without nasal high flow (NHF) therapy. For adults, NHF therapy feeds 30–60 L/min of warm humidified air into the nose through short cannulas which do not seal the nostril. NHF therapy has been reported to increase airway pressure, increase tidal volume (Vt) and decrease respiratory rate (RR), but it is unclear how these findings affect the work done to overcome airway resistance to air flow during expiration. Also, there is little information on how the choice of nasal cannula size may affect work of breathing. In this paper, estimates of airway resistance without and with different NHF flow (applied via different cannula sizes) were made. The breathing efforts required to overcome airway resistance under these conditions were quantified.


NHF was applied via three different cannula sizes to a 3-D printed human upper airway. Pressure drop and flow rate were measured and used to estimate inspiratory and expiratory upper airway resistances. The resistance information was used to compute the muscular work required to overcome the resistance of the upper airway to flow.


NHF raises expiratory resistance relative to spontaneous breathing if the breathing pattern does not change but reduces work of breathing if peak expiratory flow falls. Of the cannula sizes used, the large cannula produced the greatest resistance and the small cannula produced the least. The work required to cause tracheal flow through the upper airway was reduced if the RR and minute volume are reduced by NHF. NHF has been observed to do so in COPD patients (Bräunlich et al., 2013). A reduction in I:E ratio due to therapy was found to reduce work of breathing if the peak inspiratory flow is less than the flow below which no inspiratory effort is required to overcome upper airway resistance.


NHF raises expiratory resistance but it can reduce the work required to overcome upper airway resistance via a fall in inspiratory work of breathing, RR and minute volume.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-29
JournalRespiratory Physiology & Neurobiology
Early online date7 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018

Bibliographical note

© 2018, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International


  • Nasal high flow therapy
  • Work of breathing
  • Zero pressure inspiratory flow


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