London: Pure oxygen delivered using non-invasive face masks can help jump-start breathing in premature babies, according to a study which may lead to non-invasive methods for supporting respiration in preterm newborns. The researchers, including those from the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, said spontaneous breathing at birth was critical so that doctors avoided using invasive respiratory interventions on fragile infants.
However, they said, the lack of adequate oxygen supply to the body, or hypoxia, inhibited natural breathing, and was a huge risk for premature babies. In their current study, published on Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Pediatrics, the researchers stabilized 52 premature babies at birth, and randomly assigned them to two treatment groups.
One group received an initial oxygen concentration of 30 per cent via a non-invasive face mask, and the other received an initial oxygen concentration of 100 per cent of the gas. The researchers measured the amount of oxygen present in the infants’ blood, and compared them to the internationally recommended reference values.
They then adjusted the face mask delivery system to maintain a blood oxygen level within these recommended ranges. The findings of the study revealed that the premature babies in the 100 per cent oxygen group had a higher rate of breathing effort, and needed less time of positive pressure ventilation.
Explaining this, the researchers said, the vital organs and tissues in these fragile infants were getting more of the precious oxygen they needed to survive, and could be independent from assisted breathing sooner.
However, they cautioned that too much oxygen can also be a bad thing. High concentrations of oxygen over time can lead to hyperoxia - a potentially harmful situation that causes tissue damage, the researchers said.
In the current study, they were careful to avoid this by slowly decreasing the excess amount of oxygen as it became clear the babies no longer needed the support. The study noted that a careful balancing act of stimulating babies to breathe with excess oxygen, and then tuning the levels back once it was no longer needed, could save lives in the future.
However, the researchers said, more studies are needed to find a way to apply these results clinically.