Ventilator-induced lung injury in children: a reality?

Alette A. Koopman, Pauline de Jager, Robert G. T. Blokpoel, Martin C. J. Kneyber


Mechanical ventilation (MV) is inextricably linked to the care of critically ill patients admitted to the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Even today, little evidence supports best MV practices for life-threatening acute respiratory failure in children. However, careful attention must be paid because this life-saving technique induces pulmonary inflammation that aggravates pre-existing lung injury, a concept that is known as ventilator-induced lung injury (VILI). The delivery of too large tidal volumes (Vt) (i.e., volutrauma) and repetitive opening and closure of alveoli (i.e., atelectrauma) are two key mechanisms underlying VILI. Despite the knowledge of these mechanisms, the clinical relevance of VILI in critically ill children is poorly understood as almost all of our knowledge has been obtained from studies in adults or experimental studies mimicking the adult critical care situation. This leaves the question if VILI is relevant in the paediatric context. In fact, limited paediatric experimental data showed that the use of large, supraphysiologic Vt resulted in less inflammation and injury in paediatric animal models compared to adult models. Furthermore, the association between large Vt and adverse outcome has not been confirmed and the issue of setting positive end-expiratory pressure (PEEP) to prevent atelectrauma has hardly been studied in paediatric clinical studies. Hence, even today, the question whether or not there VILI is relevant in pediatric critical remains to be answered. Consequently, how MV is used remains thus based on institutional preferences, personal beliefs and clinical data extrapolated from adults. This signifies the need for clinical and experimental studies in order to better understand the use and effects of MV in paediatric patients with or without lung injury.