Superfast ventilation – equivalent to 600 breaths per minute – is the best way to protect extremely premature babies’ lungs, a study has concluded.
Most are currently supported with about 30 breaths per minute.
But a study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, indicates very rapid but shallower breaths led to better long-term lung function.
The researchers, at King’s College London, said the findings would provoke intense debate.
They followed 319 babies born before 29 weeks of gestation, from birth to adolescence.
The team compared what happened to the lungs of those given conventional ventilation within an hour of being born, with those on high-frequency oscillatory ventilation (HFOV).
The small airways of the children were in better shape between the ages of 11 and 14 if they had had HFOV as a baby.
It is thought that the smaller volume of air being forced into the lungs caused less damage to the delicate organs than conventional therapy.
The difference did not appear to affect children in their daily lives.
Prof Anne Greenough, from King’s College London, said: “It is exciting that the differences are still there in adolescence.”
She said worse lung function in people having conventional therapy could leave them more vulnerable to damaging effects of infection or smoking later in life.
About 60,000 babies are born very prematurely in the UK each year.