Preterm birth is the most frequent cause of infant death and the leading cause of long-term neurological (nervous system) disabilities in children. Previous research showed that preterm infants born between 24 weeks and 27 weeks of pregnancy were more likely to survive if they had received higher oxygen levels, although they were also at higher risk of an eye condition that can impair vision. Moreover, CPAP—a treatment typically reserved for adults with sleep apnea—was as effective as standard therapy in helping these preterm infants survive.
Scientists funded through the Pregnancy and Perinatology Branch conducted a follow-up study to check on the children’s progress 18 months to 22 months after they were originally due to be born. The researchers documented higher survival rates among babies who received higher oxygen levels. They confirmed that those infants who received CPAP had similar outcomes to infants who were treated with a ventilator.
Moreover, when viewed over the long term, there was no difference in the rate of vision problems between the infants who received oxygen at higher levels compared with those who received oxygen at lower levels.
At 18 months to 22 months after the infants’ original due date, the majority of the children showed typical physical and cognitive development for their age (PMID: 23268664).