Nasal continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) applied shortly after birth is said to be an effective treatment of respiratory distress in very low birth weight infants (VLBW). We tested the hypothesis that the use of early nasal CPAP (applied as soon as signs of respiratory distress occurred, usually within 15 min after birth) reduces the need for intubation, the duration of intermittent mandatory ventilation and the incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia. All liveborn VLBW infants (birth weight < 1500 g) admitted to our tertiary neonatal intensive care unit in 1990 (historical controls) and in 1993 (early nasal CPAP group) entered the study. The intubation rate was significantly lower after introduction of nasal CPAP (30% vs 53%, P = 0.016). Median duration of intubation was 4.5 days (interquartile range 3-7 days) before versus 6.0 days (2.8-9 days) after nasal CPAP was introduced (P = 0.73). The incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia was not reduced significantly (32% vs 30%, P = 0.94). Survival until discharge was 89.5%, before versus 92.9% after introduction of nasal CPAP (P = 0.54).
Conclusion: Early nasal CPAP is an effective treatment of respiratory distress in VLBW infants, significantly reducing the need for intubation and intermittent mandatory ventilation, without worsening other standard measures of neonatal outcome. We found no significant decrease in the incidence of bronchopulmonary dysplasia.