Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2021 Jun 4. doi: 10.1164/rccm.202102-0417CI. Online ahead of print.
Oxygen supplementation is one of the most common interventions in critically ill patients. Despite over a century of data suggesting both beneficial and detrimental effects of supplemental oxygen, optimal arterial oxygenation targets in adult patients remain unclear. Experimental animal studies have consistently showed that exposure to a high fraction of inspired oxygen causes respiratory failure and early death. Human autopsy studies from the 1960s purported to provide histologic evidence of pulmonary oxygen toxicity in the form of diffuse alveolar damage. However, concomitant ventilator-induced lung injury and/or other causes of acute lung injury may explain these findings. While some observational studies in general populations of critically adults showed higher mortality in association with higher oxygen exposures, this finding has not been consistent. For some specific populations, such as those with cardiac arrest, studies have suggested harm from targeting supraphysiologic PaO2s. More recently, randomized clinical trials of arterial oxygenation targets in narrower physiologic ranges were conducted in critically ill adult patients. Though two smaller trials came to opposite conclusions, the two largest of these trials showed no differences in clinical outcomes in study groups that received conservative versus liberal oxygen targets, suggesting that either strategy is reasonable. It is possible that some strategies are of benefit in some sub-populations, and this remains an important ongoing area of research. Because of the ubiquity of oxygen supplementation in critically ill adults, even small treatment effects could have a large impact on a global scale.