Early surfactant administration with brief ventilation vs selective surfactant and continued mechanical ventilation for preterm infants with or at risk for respiratory distress syndrome

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2004:(3):CD003063. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003063.pub2.


Background: Both prophylactic and early surfactant replacement therapy, compared with later selective surfactant administration, reduce mortality and pulmonary complications in ventilated infants with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). However, continued post-surfactant intubation and ventilation are risk factors for chronic lung disease. Whether prophylactic or early surfactant administration followed by prompt extubation, compared with later, selective use of surfactant followed by continued mechanical ventilation reduces the need for mechanical ventilation and the incidence of chronic lung disease is unknown.

Objectives: To compare two treatment strategies in preterm infants with, or at risk for, RDS: early surfactant administration with brief mechanical ventilation (less than one hour) followed by extubation, vs later, selective surfactant administration, continued mechanical ventilation and extubation from low respiratory support. Two populations of infants receiving early surfactant were considered: spontaneously breathing infants with signs of RDS (surfactant administration during evolution of RDS prior to requiring intubation for respiratory failure) and infants at high risk for RDS (prophylactic surfactant administration within 15 minutes after birth).

Search strategy: Searches were made of the Oxford Database of Perinatal trials, MEDLINE (1966-December 2003), CINAHL (1982-December 2003), EMBASE (1980-December 2003), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL, The Cochrane Library, Issue 1, 2004), Pediatric Research (1990-2003), abstracts, expert informants and hand searching. No language restrictions were applied.

Selection criteria: Randomized or quasi-randomized controlled clinical trials comparing early surfactant administration with planned brief mechanical ventilation (less than one hour) followed by extubation, vs selective surfactant administration, continued mechanical ventilation and extubation from low respiratory support.

Data collection and analysis: Data were sought regarding effects on incidence of mechanical ventilation (ventilation continued or initiated beyond one hour after surfactant administration), incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), chronic lung disease (CLD), mortality, duration of mechanical ventilation, duration of hospitalization, time in oxygen, duration of respiratory support (including CPAP and nasal cannula), number of patients receiving surfactant, number of surfactant doses administered per patient, incidence of air leak syndromes (pulmonary interstitial emphysema, pneumothorax), patent ductus arteriosus requiring treatment, pulmonary hemorrhage, and other complications of prematurity. Treatment effect was expressed as relative risk (RR) and risk difference (RD) for categorical variables, and weighted mean difference (WMD) for continuous variables.

Main results: Four randomized controlled clinical trials met selection criteria and were included in this review. In these studies of infants with signs of RDS, intubation and early surfactant therapy followed by extubation to nasal CPAP (NCPAP) compared with later selective surfactant administration was associated with a lower incidence of mechanical ventilation [typical RR 0.70, 95% CI 0.59, 0.84]. None of the trials reported a significant difference in the incidence of BPD or CLD; however, meta-analysis for this outcome cannot yet be performed because the primary data from three of the trials have not yet been published in full. A larger proportion of infants in the early surfactant group received surfactant than in the selective surfactant group [typical RR 1.59, 95% CI 1.35, 1.88]. The number of surfactant doses per patient was significantly greater among patients randomized to the early surfactant group [WMD 0.51 doses per patient, 95% CI 0.36, 0.65]. Trends towards a decreased incidence of air leak syndromes (two studies) and a higher incidence of patent ductus arteriosus requiring treatment (one study) were seen in the early surfactant group. There was no evidence of effect on time in oxygen or duration of mechanical ventilation.

Reviewers' conclusions: Early surfactant replacement therapy with extubation to NCPAP compared with later, selective surfactant replacement and continued mechanical ventilation with extubation from low ventilator support is associated with a reduced need for mechanical ventilation and increased utilization of exogenous surfactant therapy. There is insufficient evidence at present to reliably evaluate effect on BPD or CLD.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature
  • Pulmonary Surfactants / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Respiration, Artificial*
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome, Newborn / therapy*
  • Risk


  • Pulmonary Surfactants