Our study was to assess whether there were differential effects of nasal continuous positive airway pressure (nCPAP) on different kinds of obstruction in either upper or lower airways in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). nCPAP (6 cmH2O for ten minutes) was applied to 7 patients with reversible extrathoracic upper airway obstruction (RUAO) and 3 patients with fixed extrathoracic upper airway obstruction (FUAO). Eighteen stable asthmatics, receiving methacholine challenge to induce a more than 20% reduction in FEV1, were randomly investigated for the effect of nCPAP or sham pressure on reversible lower airway obstruction. Nine stable COPD patients were enrolled to study the effect on irreversible lower airway obstruction. Maximal expiratory and inspiratory flow volume curves and dyspnoea scores were obtained before and after immediate withdrawal of nCPAP. In the RUAO group, nCPAP significantly improved stridor and dyspnoea scores, decreased the ratio of FEF50/FIF50 from 2.05±0.25 to 1.42±0.16, and increased peak inspiratory flow (PIF) as well as forced inspiratory vital capacity by 26±8% and 9±4%, respectively. In expiratory phase, there was no significant change in pulmonary functions. In asthmatics, nCPAP significantly reversed methacholine-induced bronchoconstriction increasing forced vital capacity by 10±3%, FEV1 by 15±4% and PIF by 32±11%. nCPAP significantly increased the response to bronchodilators. The improvement in airflow rate persisted for at least 5 min after nCPAP withdrawal and was highly correlated with the response to bronchodilators. There was no significant effect of nCPAP on airflow rate in COPD patients. Subjective dyspnoea score changes paralleled the pulmonary function improvement. We conclude that there are differential effects of nCPAP on airflow rates in patients with different nature of airway obstruction. Patients with airway obstruction caused by structural changes may not benefit from the use of nCPAP in improving airflow rates.
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