A CME article in Critical Care Medicine summarises the literature on ARDS (including its limitations) and provides evidence based recommendations on what to do about severe hypoxaemia. They summarise:
For life-threatening hypoxaemia, initial management with a recruitment manoeuvre and/or high PEEP should be undertaken if plateau airway pressures and lack of barotrauma allow. If not, or if these are not effective, then proceed to the prone position or HFOV. If hypoxemia still persists, then consider the administration of inhaled NO. If NO fails, then glucocorticoids can then be administered. For elevated plateau airway pressures when tidal volumes are 4 mL/kg, consider prone positioning or HFOV. For life- threatening respiratory acidosis, consider the use of a buffer or continuous veno-venous hemofiltration. It is most important to assess for objective physiologic improvement in the appropriate time period for each intervention. If no benefit is evident, then the therapy should be discontinued to minimise harm and delay in the initiation of another therapy. If the patient continues to have life-threatening hypoxemia, acidosis, or elevated plateau airway pressures, then consider ECMO or extracorporeal carbon dioxide removal.
Therapeutic strategies for severe acute lung injury
Crit Care Med. 2010 Aug;38(8):1644-50