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Higher Oxygen Levels Improve Preemie Survival: Study
Date:4/27/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 27 (HealthDay News) -- Babies born prematurely need supplemental oxygen to survive, but just how much has been a matter of debate.

A new report finds higher oxygen concentrations improve survival, but not without risks.

There are dangers of giving too much oxygen, severe eye damage -- even blindness -- being the primary one, as well as lung and brain damage. But there are also dangers in giving too little oxygen, including death, a neonatal expert said.

"The problem is we are dealing with the risks associated with high oxygen, which everybody has been trying to avoid up until now," said Dr. Eduardo H. Bancalari, director of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine's Division of Neonatology.

"I think that in an effort to avoid the complications of high oxygen, the pendulum had gone too far to the other side," said Bancalari, who was not involved with the new research. "Babies have been receiving concentrations that are too low that are also associated with complications -- in these cases increased death."

Bancalari noted that getting the right concentration of oxygen isn't easy. "You are walking a tightrope," he said. "The problem is to find the right balance, which is difficult because it is a continuously moving target."

In the April 28 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Ben Stenson, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and colleagues report on two studies that included 3,631 infants born before 28 weeks of gestation. Oxygen concentrations of 91 percent to 95 percent improved survival, compared with concentrations of 85 percent to 89 percent, the researchers found.

After 36 weeks, 14.4 percent of the infants on higher concentrations of oxygen had died, compared with 17.3 percent of those on the lower concentrations, the results showed.

Looking only at 1,055 infants in a trial done in
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