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Capnography or colorimetric detection of CO2 in the delivery suite. What to choose?

Capnography or colorimetric detection of CO2 in the delivery suite.  What to choose?

For almost a decade now confirmation of intubation is to be done using detection of exhaled CO2. The 7th Edition of NRP has the following to say about confirmation of ETT placement “The primary methods of confirming endotracheal tube placement within the trachea are detecting exhaled CO2 and a rapidly rising heart rate.” They further acknowledge that there are two options for determining the presence of CO2 “There are 2 types of CO2 detectors available. Colorimetric devices change color in the presence of CO2. These are the most commonly used devices in the delivery room. Capnographs are electronic monitors that display the CO2 concentration with each breath.” The NRP program stops short of recommending one versus the other. I don’t have access to the costs of the colorimetric detectors but I would imagine they are MUCH cheaper than the equipment and sensors required to perform capnography using the NM3 monitor as an example. The real question though is if capnography is truly better and might change practice and create a safer resuscitation, is it the way to go?

Fast but not fast enough?

So we have a direct comparison to look at. Hunt KA st al published Detection of exhaled carbon dioxide following intubation during resuscitation at delivery this month. They started from the standpoint of knowing from the manufacturer of the Pedicap that it takes a partial pressure of CO2 of 4 mm Hg to begin seeing a colour change from purple to yellow but only when the CO2 reaches 15 mm Hg do you see a consistent colour change with that device. The capnograph from the NM3 monitor on the other hand is quantitative so is able to accurately display when those two thresholds are reached. This allowed the group to compare how long it took to see the first colour change compared to any detection of CO2 and then at the 4 and 15 mm Hg levels to see which is the quicker method of detection. It is an interesting question as what would happen if you were in a resuscitation and the person intubates and swears that they are in but there is no colour change for 5, 10 or 15 seconds or longer? At what point do you pull the ETT? Compare that with a quantitative method in which there is CO2 present but it is lower than 4. Would you leave the tube in and use more pressure (either PIP/PEEP or both?)? Before looking at the results, it will not shock you that ANY CO2 should be detected faster than two thresholds but does it make a difference to your resuscitation?

The Head to Head Comparison

The study was done retrospectively for 64 infants with a confirmed intubation using the NM3 monitor and capnography.  Notably the centre did not use a colorimetric detector as a comparison group but rather relied on the manufacturers data indicating the 4 and 15 mm Hg thresholds for colour changes.  The mean age of patients intubated was 27 weeks with a range of 23 – 34 weeks.  The results I believe show something quite interesting and informative.

  Median time secs (range)
Earliest CO2 detection 3.7 (0 – 44s)
4 mm Hg 5.3 (0 – 727)
15 mm Hg 8.1 (0 – 727)

I wouldn’t worry too much about a difference of 1.6 seconds to start getting a colour change but it is the range that has me a little worried.  The vast majority of the patients demonstrated a level of 4 or 15 mm Hg within 50 seconds although many were found to take 25-50 seconds.  When compared to a highest level of 44 seconds in the first detection of CO2 group it leads one to scratch their head.  How many times have you been in a resuscitation and with no CO2 change you keep the ETT in past 25 seconds?  Looking closer at the patients, there were 12 patients that took more than 30 seconds to reach a threshold of 4 mm Hg.  All but one of the patients had a heart rate in between 60-85.  Additionally there was an inverse relationship found between gestational age and time to detection.  In other words, the smallest of the babies in the study took the longest to establish the threshold of 4 and 15 mm Hg.

Putting it into context?

What this study tells me is that the most fragile of infants may take the longest time to register a colour change using the colorimetric devices.  It may well be that these infants take longer to open up their pulmonary vasculature and deliver CO2 to the alveoli.  As well these same infants may take longer to open the lung and exhale the CO2.  I suppose I worry that when a resuscitation is not going well and an infant at 25 weeks is bradycardic and being given PPV through an ETT without colour change, are they really not intubated?  In our own centre we use capnometry in these infants (looks for a wave form of CO2) which may be the best option if you are looking to avoid purchasing equipment for quantitative CO2 measurements.  I do worry though that in places where the colorimetric devices are used for all there will be patients who are extubated due to the thought that they in fact have an esophageal intubation when the truth is they just need time to get the CO2 high enough to register a change in colour.

Anyways, this is food for thought and a chance to look at your own practice and see if it is in need of a tweak…

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I work in units with colorimetric verification and it is often exactly as you describe, particularly when a trainee performs the intubation and the HR is lingering, the colorimeter is not changing and then neonatologist has the trainee remove the ETT and the patient is reintubated.  Earlier in my career I just assumed these were esophageal intubations by me (in the role of a junior trainee).  Now, at the end of my fellowship, I have multiple experiences with this phenomenon where I have no doubt that I have seen the tube pass through the cords under a grade 1 view.  We pull the tube, provide PPV (presumably further establishing FRC) and reintubate with more rapid CO2 detection on the second attempt.

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Very interesting with important implications for practice I believe. It is often when we adapt a new tool to the NICU we believe it will help us make things easier. As so often it turns out, every tool has its own things we need to consider when using. Nothing is perfect 😉

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