The need for continuous, noninvasive, and reliable respiratory rate monitoring during recovery from general anesthesia has long been recognized. Alternative principles can be grouped into those detecting the respiratory effort, and those detecting the actual result, i.e. the respiratory gas flow. The second category is of greatest interest for patient monitoring. In this paper, we report the development and initial clinical experience with a new acoustic air-flow sensor. By differential, multipoint detection of the air-flow in the mouth and nose region, the sensor can easily discriminate against different kinds of interference, including motion artefacts. The sensor is nonexpensive, rugged, simple to apply and inherently safe. An instrument with continuous display of respiratory rate, and an audiovisual apnea alarm has been designed and built. The complete system has been tested on patients during recovery after general anesthesia. In 16 patients, the respiratory rate displayed by the instrument has been correlated against that visually observed. A good correlation was obtained. Minor discrepancies can be explained from the fact that visual observation corresponds to the respiratory effort, whereas the sensor detects the actual air flow. In 12 patients, 24 hour simultaneous recordings were made of respiratory rate with the new sensor, with simultaneous recording of the oxygen saturation and the heart rate with a pulse oximeter. It was found that the new sensor reliably recorded respiratory depression and apnea. Such events may in some patients be as frequent as one incident per hour. One case of 'Ondine's curse' provided clear evidence that pulse oximetry has a low sensitivity to respiratory disorders.
International Journal of Clinical Monitoring and Computing, 1993, Vol 10, Issue 2, p. 101-7