Objective: To assess airway function at 1 year and compare this with similar measurements made shortly after birth in preterm infants without clinical neonatal respiratory disease.
Study design: Infants born at </=36 weeks' gestational age were eligible if they required no neonatal ventilatory support and were otherwise healthy. Paired measurements of maximal expiratory flow at functional residual capacity (V'(maxFRC)) were obtained ~3 weeks after birth in 24 preterm infants (gestational age [mean +/- SD], 33.2 +/- 2.2 weeks) and repeated at a corrected postnatal age (mean +/- SD) of 57.0 +/- 12.2 weeks. V'(maxFRC) values were expressed as Z scores by means of sex-specific prediction equations.
Results: V'(maxFRC) was within normal range for all infants shortly after birth (mean +/- SD Z score: -0.06 +/- 0.92). By 1 year, Z scores had reduced significantly [mean (95% CI) 2nd-1st test: -1.94 (-2.27, -1.60)]. V'(maxFRC )Z scores at 3 weeks were highly correlated with those at 1 year of age (Spearman correlation coefficient 0.64).
Conclusions: Airway function during the first year shows considerable tracking. Even in the absence of neonatal respiratory disease, preterm delivery is associated with altered airway development during early infancy.