Enteral feeding is safe during bronchiolitis HFNC



– There were no cases of aspiration with enteric feeds of 60 children aged up to 2 years on high flow nasal cannula (HFNC) for bronchiolitis at the University of Oklahoma Children’s Hospital, Oklahoma City, according to research presented at the 2019 Pediatric Hospital Medicine Conference.

Dr. Sarah Walter, University of Oklahoma Children's Hospital, Oklahoma City M. Alexander Otto/MDedge News

Dr. Sarah Walter

HFNC has become common for bronchiolitis management; it often saves infants from intubation. However, many providers opt for total parenteral nutrition during therapy instead of enteral feeding because of concerns about aspiration pneumonia.

Pediatricians at the children’s hospital began to wonder if the concern was really necessary. There have been reports of safe feeding during HFNC, and “clinical care literature has shown that feeding the gut throughout illness improves outcomes,” said lead investigator, Sarah Walter, MD, a third-year pediatrics resident at the hospital.

So her team took a leap of faith. They consulted the HFNC literature, asked their fellow providers what they would be comfortable with, and instituted a pediatric HFNC enteral feeding protocol at the children’s hospital for use on inpatient floors, pediatric ICUs, and elsewhere.

Feedings – formula or breast milk – are triggered by stable respiratory Tal scores over 8 hours, meaning that respiratory rates, breath sounds, and accessory muscle use were stable or improving. Children on a flow of 6 L/min or less, with a respiratory rate below 60 breaths per minute, are started on oral feeds, and those on higher flows on nasogastric (NG) tube feeds.

Feeds are started at 1 mL/kg per hour and advanced by the same amount every 3 hours until volume goals are reached; IV fluids are tapered accordingly. It’s a standing order, so nurses are able to initiate and advance feeding as indicated, any time of day.

Feeding was temporarily suspended in only 17 children: 6 for emesis, 6 for worsening respiratory scores, and the rest for dislodged NG tubes, procedures, or other issues. Enteric feeds were restarted with two stable scores below 7 points, at half the rate at which they were stopped.

NG tubes were used in over half of the 478 nursing shifts during which the 60 children – the majority aged 4-24 months – were fed; oral feeds in more than a third; and gastric tubes and other options in the rest. IV nutrition was used during just 1.8% of the shifts.

Enteric feeds were given up to a flow rate of 3.5 L/kg. There were no aspirations, even when children vomited. “We have seen good results so far that feeding is safe in these children,” Dr. Walters said.

“Our hospitalist team has been very receptive; they have been using the order set pretty continuously.” Parents also feel better when they know their children were “getting food in their belly,” even if by NG tube. “It’s important for family satisfaction,” she said.

The next step is to assess impact on length of stay, and education efforts to encourage broader use of the order set.

There was no external funding, and Dr. Walter had no disclosures. The meeting was sponsored by the Society of Hospital Medicine, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Academic Pediatric Association.

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